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Rush to apply to 9/11 compensation fund as deadline nears

The number of people seeking financial assistance for illness and injury related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks soared in the weeks leading up to yesterday's deadline for applying to the federal compensation fund.

As of Wednesday, the latest figures available, 44,226 people registered and more than 10,000 started the application process but haven't completed it, said Sheila Birnbaum, the special master appointed to oversee the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

In the past 2 ½ weeks, close to 19,000 people applied, she said, compared with about 25,000 who registered in the two years since the fund started accepting applications on Oct. 2, 2011.

"We knew that we were going to have this onslaught," Birnbaum said.

In the past week, she assigned 25 staff members to help answer calls and get forms to the applicants, pulling about 17 to 18 supervisors and other employees from their regular duties to help.

In 2010, under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, Congress set aside $2.775 billion to compensate first responders, residents, office workers and others exposed to the toxic dust that fell on lower Manhattan when the World Trade Center collapsed in 2001. The fund also compensates those who worked at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa.

Yesterday's deadline applies to people who knew of their 9/11-related illness before Oct. 3, 2011. Those diagnosed with a 9/11-associated cancer have until Oct. 12, 2014, to apply. Cancer was added to the list of diseases covered by the bill in September 2012.

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It's not known how many enrollees are actually ill, or who among them might qualify for compensation, Birnbaum said. She suspects there are people who don't qualify but registered anyway for fear that they may get sick in the future.

Michael Corrigan, 53, a security consultant from West Hempstead, is one of those.

He worked near Ground Zero for about four months after the attacks. Although he isn't ill, he said he registered out of concern that he may become sick in the future.

"I put my name in there in case something should happen," he said.

John Lynch, 54, of Northport, a health sanitarian supervisor with the Nassau County Department of Health, was at Ground Zero for five days during a two-week stretch inspecting facilities set up to feed first responders, debris removers and others. He and the 15 other volunteers were not issued respiratory masks, Lynch said.

In 2006, he was diagnosed with chronic sinusitis, an inflammation of the nasal passage, he said, and has been on medications for seven years.

Lynch didn't apply until last weekend because, up until then, he wasn't sure if the program applied to him, he said. He decided to preserve his rights to file a claim later in case his condition gets worse.

"I am thinking about the future," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen 10 years from now or 20 years from now. I have family."

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