Agency Reboots Fund to Help Victims of Sept. 11

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Department of Justice plans to reactivate the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, and incorporate program changes made by the Zadroga Act, signed into law in January.

     The renewed fund is to provide compensation for injuries and deaths from the terrorist-related events of Sept. 11, 2001, and initial site cleanup.
     The program is to be run by the Department of Health and Human Services, and will begin operations Oct. 1.
     The new funds’ director, Sheila Birnbaum, stated in the notice of proposed rulemaking that she intends to make decisions based on the best scientific and medical evidence available, and use as much of the fund as possible for payouts to beneficiaries instead of to administration of the fund.
     Congress has capped program spending at $2.7 billion, limiting the first five years’ spending to $875 million. The rest is to be paid out in the sixth year.
     Changes from the original program include new beneficiary categories, new filing deadlines, and limits on attorney fees for awards made under the fund.
     Under Zadroga, to be covered by the fund a person must have been present at a 9/11 crash site at the time or in the immediate aftermath of the crashes and have suffered physical harm or death as a result of one of the air crashes or debris removal, according to the notice of proposed rulemaking. Birnbaum adds in the notice that the person also would have to be “sufficiently close to the site that there was a demonstrable risk of physical harm.”
     Birnbaum plans to maintain a list of presumptively covered health conditions similar to the Zadroga Act’s list of illnesses and health conditions for which exposure to air borne toxins, other hazards and any other adverse conditions resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks could be determined by experienced medical professionals to be substantially likely to have been a significant factor in aggravating, causing, or contributing to a person’s illness or health condition.
     The public comment period for the proposed rule is only 45 days, since the program is similar to the previous one.

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