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A Message from the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

Today Sheila L. Birnbaum, the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund sent the following email outlining her priorities for administering the fund. She also announced the posting of draft rules on regulations.gov. Read the email below. For more information on the fund, visit justice.gov/vcf ---------- Dear Friend, When I was appointed to serve as Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, I set two initial priorities. First, I would meet with the men and women who would be most affected by the VCF, so that we could construct a program that best meets their needs and interests. Second, I wanted to publish proposed rules to govern the VCF as soon as possible, in draft form, so that there would be ample time for others to review them and give me comments on them, before I have to finalize the rules and open the VCF later this year. Over the past month, I have received invaluable input from the many individuals I have met with, and I hope to meet with many more over the coming months. Today, I have published my proposed rules, and would like to invite the public to comment on them. The rules, and a process for commenting on them, are available at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=DOJ-CIV-2011-0017-0001 Among other things, the new regulations propose a process by which claimants from the first VCF can amend their claims to reflect new injuries, and also provide for the VCF to cover additional diseases as scientific knowledge evolves. My goal is for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to be fair, transparent, and easy to navigate. In order to achieve that goal, I intend to build on the strong foundation that was established by Special Master Kenneth Feinberg in the first iteration of the Victim Compensation Fund and listen carefully to the views and concerns expressed by those who will be most affected by the program. Given the Victim Compensation Fund’s success in its previous iteration, I propose to implement the original processes where I can and to propose additional or different procedures where the Zadroga Act requires a different approach. At the outset, I would highlight some key principles that will guide my effort to create a process that is fair, transparent, and easy to navigate. First, I intend to make decisions based on the best scientific and medical evidence that is available. The Zadroga Act requires the Special Master to make a number of decisions about who is eligible to bring a claim, based on the nature of the individual’s injuries, how it was caused, and whether the individual was present in an area where there was a demonstrable risk of physical harm resulting from the crashes. In order to make these determinations in a fair manner, I intend to look to the evidence that scientists and medical professionals rely on in exercising their best professional judgment. I also intend for the Victim Compensation Fund to keep pace with the evolving science and to ensure that as we learn more about conditions that may have been caused by the crashes or related debris-removal efforts, we are able to compensate claimants accordingly. Second, Congress has appropriated a capped amount – $2.775 billion payable over a period of years – for this program. Only $875 million may be spent in the first five years of the program with the remainder being paid out in the sixth year. It is important therefore to assure that funds are targeted to the payment of eligible claims and to avoid procedures or guidelines that will dilute those payments. Funds used to process ineligible claims or for unnecessary administrative costs result in fewer funds available to pay intended and deserving claimants. In implementing the program, I intend to initiate procedures that will permit efficiency without sacrificing fairness, and to seek ways to minimize administrative expenses, thereby maximizing the amount available for distribution to eligible claimants. Third, it is exceedingly important, in my view, to fully investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the response, clean-up and debris removal activities necessitated by the attacks and the injuries that have resulted from these activities. To achieve these goals over the next several months, I will hold meetings with interested parties to explain the Victim Compensation Fund and the proposed regulations, to hear your thoughts, and to answer as many questions as I can. I also look forward to reviewing your written comments about these proposed regulations, so that I can make the best decisions possible to refine the regulations and administer the program. Yours, Sheila
Updated April 7, 2017