Aid offered for 9/11 health claims process

The view looking south on West Street toward The view looking south on West Street toward the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo Credit: David Schaer

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Metropolitan area law schools and the City Bar Justice Center are offering free clinics to help people with health issues from the Sept. 11 attacks file federal compensation claims.

So far, the Justice Center has helped 94 clients at three clinics since last fall, executive director Lynn Kelly said Friday. The service offers a one-hour free consultation with a lawyer about eligibility for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and a "road map" for how to apply.

Those using the service, Kelly said, include many cleanup workers and small business employees who worked near Ground Zero. Many asked how to prove they were there. "The clinics . . . [are meant] to help people puzzle through how they will prove their eligibility," Kelly said.

The VCF reopened last year after Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, expanding the scope of the original fund.

The next clinic is May 7 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the New York City Bar Association, 42 W. 44th St. Preregistration is required through the main VCF help line: 855-885-1555, or 855-885-1558 for the hearing-impaired.

About 90 prospective claimants attended additional clinics staffed by law students recently at Columbia Law School and the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.

Frances Gottfried, director of the VCF's New York office, said the outreach program aims to offer more clinics in the metro area, including Nassau and Suffolk counties, and is working on holding one at Hofstra University "by early summer."

The law student clinics aid with registration and filling out eligibility forms, but they cannot give the legal advice available at the bar clinics.

Claimants should still consider getting their own lawyers, "especially if the issues are complicated," said Sheila Birnbaum, special master of the victim compensation fund, who discussed the legal-help program during a lower Manhattan community meeting last week.

Claims must be filed by Oct. 3, 2013, or within two years of illness onset.

Lower Manhattan resident and Community Board 1 member Bob Schneck attended a March clinic for aid with his own application.

"It was a very helpful process. They sit you down at a computer and get you to register -- it's harder than you think," he said. Schneck said his apartment had to be cleaned four times for WTC dust and he suffers from several conditions, including reflux and sinusitis.

Birnbaum said people certified in the WTC Health Program, which covers health monitoring and treatment, would likely be eligible for the VCF. The website at vcf.gov provides information about eligibility and application forms as well as notices of future claimant-assistance clinics.

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