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Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, Take Two: New Rules for First Responders (June 24).

There’s a new 9/11 victims’ fund, a new special master, and new regulations for paying those injured as a result of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

On June 21, Special Master Sheila Birnbaum announced draft regulations to govern the reinstated Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001.  The regs are open for public comment until Aug. 5.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Birnbaum, a New York-based litigation partner in  Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, as special master of the newly reconstituted fund, in May 18.

The full text of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which reestablished the fund, is available here.  The proposed regulations, and instructions for submitting comments, can be found here.

In an E-mail accompanying the release of the updated regulations, Birnbaum stressed that the fund be “fair, transparent, and easy to navigate.” 

The original fund was overseen by Washington D.C., attorney-mediator Kenneth Feinberg. The first Sept. 11 fund paid more than 5,500 victims and their families about $7 billion, after its 2001 establishment just 11 days after the terrorist attacks until it closed in 2004.

Feinberg "laid a great foundation during the fund’s first iteration, and I plan to build upon it," said Birnbaum in a statement when she was appointed special master on May 18.

The updated regulations rely considerably on the regulations governing the fund from 2001-2004. For this reason, the Department of Justice will only receive public comment on the regulations for 45 days--until Aug. 5--before finalizing them.

The reactivated fund is most noticeably different in its definition of “eligible individuals.” The Zadroga Act expands the definition to include first responders and individuals who suffered physical harm during debris removal and related tasks at a “9/11 crash site.”

The definition of “physical harm” is not limited to injuries caused by falling debris, but includes conditions that may have been caused over longer time periods. Consequently, the boundaries of the “crash site”—a defined term in the new regs--have been considerably expanded, and are expected to extend at least throughout much of Lower Manhattan.    

The original fund limited eligible individuals to those “aboard the flights and individuals present at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or the site of the aircraft crash at Shanksville at the time or in the immediate aftermath of the crashes or Personal Representatives of deceased individuals who would otherwise be eligible.” See Kenneth R. Feinberg, Esq., Final Report of the Special Master for September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 (available here).

The reactivated fund allows individuals to amend previously submitted claims with relevant information. Both amended and new claims will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.   

In an effort to reduce administrative costs, the reactivated fund offers a single procedure by which claims are evaluated; the original fund offered two. Under the new fund, the eligibility and award will be decided based on the claimant’s filings. The claimant then has the option to either 1) accept the award or 2) request a hearing. 

Like the original fund, the reactivated fund will pay economic and noneconomic losses. This time, however, advance benefits will not be available. The payment schedule will be highly regulated; only $875 million may be spent during the first five years.

The funding for the act–totaling $4.3 billion–becomes available on Oct.1, with nearly $2.8 billion slated specifically for the Victims Compensation Fund. The remaining funds will provide health monitoring and medical benefits to eligible responders and residents of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

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More on the new fund will appear in the July/August Alternatives, available July 8, here.

The regulations were covered widely, including this blog post shortly after their release by the Wall Street Journal Online, highlighting the lack of mental health payments.

See also articles in the New York Times and on the Huffington Post, available here and here, respectively.  

--Blaire Babcock, CPR Intern