Trump Signs 9/11 Victims Fund Extension

FDNY firefighter looking at 9/11 memorial on fire truck

President Donald Trump on Monday signed legislation that will extend the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund until 2092.

During the signing ceremony at the White House, Trump was surrounding by first responders, survivors and family members of several who died in the 2001 terrorist attack on the United States.

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S Senate voted overwhelmingly last week to approve the legislation that will provide a lifetime of assistance for victims and their families.

The extension will allow the fund, first established in 2001, to pay for past and future medical claims of those effected by the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

According to World Trade Center Registry, an estimated 410,000 people may have been exposed to asbestos and other hazardous debris of the attack on New York City.

“Today is the day we come together as a nation to support our 9/11 heroes,” Trump said moments before the signing. “Our love and loyalty for the 9/11 responders knows no bounds. They answered terror with emotional strength of true American warriors.”

Funding Benefits Mesothelioma Patients

Close to 2,900 Americans were killed initially during the attack, and almost as many have died since, most of whom were part of the rescue and recovery efforts that were done under the toxic dust cloud that engulfed Manhattan for weeks afterward.

The funding extension should benefit victims who may develop mesothelioma linked to the more than 400 tons of asbestos fibers that covered the 16-acre disaster zone surrounding the World Trade Center collapse.

The legislation has become known as the “Never Forget the Heroes Act.” The names of NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez, who died in June, FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who died in 2017, and NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who died in 2006, are on the legislation.

Families of the three were in attendance at the signing.

Victims Fund Also Covers Families

Unlike previous extensions, the bill does not limit the amount to be spent.

The legislation will cover individuals who have been physically injured as a result of the attacks — or the debris removal efforts — and the families of those who have died in the aftermath.

It will include thousands of firefighters, police officers, rescue and recovery workers, volunteer first responders and residents who lived near the site of the attacks or along the debris removal routes.

“There’s no shortage of ‘Never Forget’ on Sept. 11. That’s one day a year, and some of our elected officials seem to be forgetting when they’re called to the mat,” Gerard Fitzgerald, Uniformed Firefighters Association, told News 12 Long Island.

More than 95,000 people — 80% of them first responders — are part of today’s World Trade Center Health Program, which was launched in 2011 to monitor and treat those living with any post 9/11 health problems.

The WTC Health Program recently reported that almost 10,000 people had developed a cancer related to 9/11. That number is expected to grow considerably because of the often-long latency period related to the diseases.

More than 20,000 people have developed noncancerous health conditions.

9/11 Cancer Deaths on the Rise

The health program lists the top 10 cancers related to 9/11 as:

  • Nonmelanoma of the skin
  • Prostate cancer
  • Melanoma of the skin
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Colon cancer

Medical experts expect the death toll from 9/11-related illnesses to soon surpass the almost 3,000 people who died immediately after the attacks.

On Wednesday, the New York City Fire Department lost its 200th firefighter because of an 9/11-related illness. This is in addition to the 343 FDNY firefighters lost on September 11.

Ongoing studies and medical monitoring has shown troubling health statistics related to the toxic substances that were everywhere during the rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts.

Studies have connected respiratory diseases, pulmonary fibrosis, significant loss of lung function, chronic sinusistis and gastrointestinal problems to 9/11.

Rates of asthmatic conditions are considerably higher among those who are part of the WTC Health program than the general population.

A decade after 9/11, more cases of interstitial lung disease were being found among first responders.

Medical experts have seen an alarming increase in various cancers related to the toxins. Another study found a significant increase in head and neck cancers.

Spike in Mesothelioma Cases Expected

Thoracic surgeon and mesothelioma specialist Dr. Raja Flores at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York expects to see a significant rise in mesothelioma cases related to 9/11.

“What I am seeing is a lot more esophageal cancers. Would they have developed anyway? Or are they result of all the exposure? I think exposure,” Flores told The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com in 2018. “The patients seem a lot younger now. It’s going to be another 30 to 40 years before all this plays out.”

As of July 1, 2019, the Victim Compensation Fund received 50,730 eligibility claims and found 24,037 eligible for compensation.

The original 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund was created in 2001.

It was renewed mostly in five-year increments, but projection costs and budgeted amounts repeatedly underestimated the actual cost of caring for survivors and families.

This latest legislation has put no limit or cap on the amount of money that can be spent.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost at $10.2 billion for the first decade (2020-2029) alone under the new legislation.

By 2092, when the funding will end, estimates have been as high as $100 billion in federal money being distributed.

The original Victim Compensation Fund, from 2001 to 2004, awarded $7 billion to 2,880 surviving representatives of those who died and 2,680 who were injured in the attack.

Congress reopened the VCF in 2011 and paid out another $2.77 billion in compensation and administrative costs.

The reauthorization in 2016 included an appropriation of $7.3 billion that was expected to last until 2020.

However, in February 2019, it was determined awards would be reduced significantly (from 50% to 70%) because of a funding shortage.

The new legislation will pay off any eligible people whose awards were reduced in recent years.

Administrative Costs of Victims Fund a Factor

Administrative costs are another part of the fund.

In 2018, for example, the Victim Compensation Fund paid out $28 million to 172 federal employees who oversaw the operation. The Congressional Budget Office estimates an annual administrative cost of $30 million to $33 million in federal money until 2092.

Individuals deemed eligible for awards can be given as much as $250,000 for a diagnosis of cancer and $90,000 for a noncancer determination by the WTC Health Program, which is administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the VCF was reopened in 2011, 37% of those deemed eligible for awards were paid to people with a form of cancer.

From January 2017 until July 1, 2019, the cancer percentage has climbed to 45%.

“Since Luis Alvarez died on June 29, we’ve lost 18 9/11 first responders. Eighteen in 24 days,” John Feal, a 9/11 first responder, told News 12 Long Island. “I’d like to say we’re gonna live happily ever after but that’s just not the case. More and more people are going to get sick, and more and more people are going to die.”

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Senior Content Writer

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His specialty is interviewing top mesothelioma specialists and researchers, reporting the latest news at mesothelioma cancer centers and talking with survivors and caregivers.

3 Cited Article Sources

  1. News 12 Long Island. (2019, July 23). Senate to vote today on 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund bill.
    Retrieved from: http://longisland.news12.com/story/40823280/senate-to-vote-today-on-911-victim-compensation-fund-bill
  2. Hernandez, L. (2019, July 22). Senate to vote on extending 9/11 victim compensation fund.
    Retrieved from: https://www.newsday.com/news/nation/911-victims-fund-senate-1.34166493
  3. Government Publishing Office. House of Representatives. (2019, July 12). Never Forget The Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.
    Retrieved from: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CRPT-116hrpt152/pdf/CRPT-116hrpt152.pdf

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