By Susan Edelman
December 9, 2012
Ground Zero responders and lower Manhattan residents sickened or injured in the 9/11 attacks can forget about any financial help from Uncle Sam before the holidays.
Nearly two years after President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act on Jan. 2, 2011, no one has gotten a dime.
“We’re going into the third year of the law, and the fact that no one’s been compensated after eight years of hard work to get the bill passed is unacceptable,” fumed Ground Zero advocate John Feal.
Congress appropriated $2.7 billion for a reopened Victim Compensation Fund to dole out $875 million in the first five years and the rest in 2016.
So far, 15,000 firefighters, cops, hardhats and others who lived, worked or went to school downtown have registered as potential claimants. But only 1,500 have filed applications, officials told The Post.
Cancers were recently added to the covered illnesses, but the fund has yet to issue the forms for those applications.
Claimants must first prove they suffered a covered illness caused by exposure to Ground Zero or other 9/11 site, then prove an “economic loss” not met by other payments.
Those who qualify for compensation can get a portion of their estimated award — possibly 10 percent or so — in 20 days.
“That 10 percent could have helped people enjoy a happy, healthy holiday and put toys under the tree for their kids,” Feal said.
“It’s the same crap — no different than what we went through with the city settlement,” said Richard Palmer, a former Rikers Island warden who suffers from asthma. “It’s frustrating. Let’s get moving already.”
One lawyer said he has filed nearly 100 applications but has no idea where they stand: “We haven’t gotten any feedback from anybody. It’s like a black hole.”
Another lawyer, Andrew Carboy, said that his firm has filed about 200 applications but that the only response so far was a request for one client to re-sign a form. “The signature wasn’t close enough to the signature line,” he said.
But Sheila Birnbaum, special master of the fund, told The Post that most applications have arrived incomplete. Only 500 claimants have sent in the required signatures; others lack key details. “Nobody wants to get money out quicker than I do,” she said. “We’ve been disappointed that we just don’t have all the information to do it.”
Twelve claimants have been found eligible, mainly FDNY members with such problems as sleep apnea and lung, sinus and digestive diseases. But one had “no economic loss,” and three were already compensated by the first 9/11 fund, Birnbaum said.
Payments, such as pensions or a settlement in the mass lawsuit against the city, will be deducted from the awards. Birnbaum said the VCF staff has been forced to track down missing information.
Birnbaum, who negotiated $500 million in settlements with 92 families of those killed on 9/11, said she hopes to start making awards in January.
“There’s this tension in the fund to make sure the claims are legitimate and at the same time to bend over backward to give awards to everybody who deserves it,” she said.