WASHINGTON -- The new September 11 Victim Compensation Fund took its first major step to begin helping people sickened and dying from the rescue and recovery mission after the terrorist attacks, launching a new website Monday to begin a claims process.
In a letter Monday to one of the lead sponsors of the James Zadroga Sept. 11 Health and Compensation Act, the special master of the fund, Sheila Birnbaum, announced the site won't be taking applications yet, but will assist people in figuring out what information and documents they will need.
Birnbaum explained to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) that people will be able to take the first step in the process by registering, and can then get a checklist of "the kinds of documents and information that they will need when they submit their claims."
Maloney was happy to see the process moving. “Getting the VCF up and running is a crucial step toward meeting our moral responsibility to help those injured as a result of 9/11," she said. "I’m delighted that this day has finally arrived, and that struggling 9/11 responders and survivors will soon be able to apply for the economic relief they and their families so urgently need."
The victims' compensation fund is overseen by the Department of Justice, and although money had not initially been set aside for administrative costs, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has insisted that the program begin running by October.
The administrative costs will come from the $2.8 billion set aside for compensating people injured by the attacks. Only a small percentage of the compensation will be paid out quickly to people who need it, however. The legislation that created the fund specifies that the bulk of it be paid out at the end of five years.
One reason for the delay is that assessing claims is expected to be extremely complicated. While mental health issues, severe reflux and certain increasingly deadly breathing ailments are widely recognized as stemming from 9/11 service, other problems are more difficult for establishing causality.
One of the most expensive illnesses that many people hope will be covered -- cancer -- is not yet included among the ailments covered by the measure, but in five years, a number of cancers may be.
Still, people with problems known to come from 9/11 should be able to start getting help soon.
"We have laid the foundation for a claims-processing system that we believe will be fair, transparent and easy to navigate," Birnbaum wrote. "With full funding now available, I am confident that we will be able to complete the necessary infrastructure for a streamlined, automated claims process in a timely manner."
Huffington Post's extensive coverage of the 10th anniversary of the attacks can be seen here.