Each year, as the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks approaches, the country is reminded of the unprecedented losses suffered. As we approach the anniversary and honor the fallen, the Justice Department also honors the survivors, particularly those who are experiencing 9/11 health-related illnesses.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) is increasing its efforts to identify those who may be eligible for compensation because they suffer physical health effects as a result of their exposure but are not aware of the VCF, and seeks to award compensation to those who continue to suffer. As part of this outreach effort, FBI Director Christopher Wray and VCF Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya hosted a public forum for approximately 150 federal law enforcement officers today to provide vital information about federal programs that are available to those who responded to the attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Like so many first responders, our agents were fearless in their response on September 11 and in the days and months that followed, exposing themselves to what we now know were toxic conditions,” said Wray. “We are here today to spread the word about the VCF and the World Trade Center Health Program – two long-standing programs that provide vital assistance to those who have become sick as a result of their 9/11 exposure.”
“We are extremely grateful to have Director Wray, Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Justice Department’s Civil Division and U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman of the Southern District of New York with us here today to raise awareness of the VCF as a resource for this brave community,” Bhattacharyya said. “In addition to providing critical relief from financial hardship that results from 9/11 injuries and deaths, the VCF compensates victims – at least to some degree – for their pain and suffering, and can provide some peace of mind, though sadly, for many who fear leaving their families in need.”
After opening comments by the National September 11th Memorial and Museum President Alice Greenwald, Wray spoke with the group about the first responders who served their country in its greatest hour of need. “You fought for justice,” he said. “You fought to bring peace to the families who lost their loved ones. You fought to make sure that what happened that day would never — ever — happen again. So let us help you now. Let us fight for you. We’re in this together, and we’ll tackle it together, just as we have in the past 17 years.”
Wray was followed by retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Lu Lieber, who talked about becoming sick years after her 9/11 exposure, and failing to connect the two until being invited to an FBI/VCF information sharing event last October. “Prior to Oct. 11, 2017, I was unaware of the World Trade Center Health Program and unaware that I was eligible to file a claim with the VCF,” said Lieber. “I did not connect my symptoms to 911 exposure. I have since registered with the WTC Health Program, and I am certified with six different conditions related to 911 exposure. Even if you don’t feel sick, it is crucial to register with the World Trade Center Health Program and the VCF if you are certified with WTC related conditions. These programs are vital, they are available to help you and they may save your life.”
Lt. (Fmr.) Michael O’Connell, retired FDNY but a rookie when he was a first responder, spoke of his 9/11 experience and the illnesses that followed, and he, too, encouraged audience members to sign up for the World Trade Center Health Program, and to register with the VCF. “Those two programs saved my life, and saved my family,” said O’Connell. “They are there for you – go find them.”
The public forum, which included representatives from the World Trade Center Health Program, Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the FealGood Foundation, 9/11 Health Watch, the FBI Agents Association, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, featured presentations on both the VCF and the World Trade Center Health Program, followed by a Q&A session with Special Master Bhattacharyya and Lieutenant Commander Brittany Rizek, Medical Benefits Team Lead of the World Trade Center Health Program. The audience was largely federal law enforcement officers who responded on 9/11 to the attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and at the Shanksville site.
“It’s critically important that we continue to reach out to individuals who may qualify for medical benefits through the World Trade Center Health Program,” said Lieutenant Commander Brittany Rizek. “We are dedicated to helping all eligible members affected by the September 11th attacks receive expert care.”
The VCF is also participating in the Voices of 9/11 17th Annual Day of Remembrance Information Forum(link is external) on Monday to increase awareness and answer questions regarding the VCF.
As of Aug. 31, the VCF has found 20,874 claimants eligible for compensation. The VCF has made initial award determinations on 19,204 of those claims, and has issued revised awards on 5,011 claims due to an amendment or appeal. The total amount awarded to date is more than $4.28 billion to VCF claimants. In all, the VCF has compensated claims from more than 15,300 responders to the attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and at the Shanksville site, as well as almost 3,500 others who lived, worked, or traveled through areas of lower Manhattan and were exposed to debris and toxins generated by the attacks and their aftermath.