Work continues at the World Trade Center site in 2001....

Work continues at the World Trade Center site in 2001. The area came to be known as Ground Zero.  Credit: Newsday / Jiro Ose

The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund has awarded $12.8 billion to over 56,600 claimants since being reactivated in 2011 and last year decided more claims and issued more reward dollars than in any prior year, the fund said in its annual report.

But the fund’s special master, Allison Turkel, is concerned there are still claimants who are entitled to compensation, she wrote in the report, which was released earlier this month. The report said the fund was redoubling efforts to reach those who might be eligible.

“I have been astounded by the number of individuals I have spoken with — friends, people in the Federal Government, or who lived in New York or worked at the Pentagon — who do not know about the VCF,” Turkel wrote. “I am convinced that they represent a much larger universe of individuals whose health may have been impacted by 9/11, but who either have not made the connection, or simply don’t think the VCF is meant for them.”

John Feal, a first responder from Nesconset who lost half his left foot after working to clear rubble from Ground Zero, noted how the report came amid grim increases.

“More and more people are filing claims. More and more people are getting cancer, and more and more people are dying,” said Feal, of the FealGood Foundation, which advocates for Ground Zero first responders.

The Victim Compensation Fund was reopened in 2011 under the Zadroga Act, having been closed in 2004 after being established in 2001.

The fund is meant to compensate anyone — or a representative of a dead person — “who suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11, 2001,” the website says.

After the attacks, the government said wrongly that it was safe to breathe the air near Ground Zero — a claim for which the then-head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman, was later harshly criticized by the agency for making just days after 9/11. 

The annual report covers the second iteration of the fund.

Eligibility covers a person who worked or volunteered in cleanup, construction and debris removal, along with anyone who “lived, worked, or went to school in the NYC exposure zone.”

Feal told Newsday last year that among the responders, laborers, workers and volunteers who had died, about 30% were from Long Island.

An act of Congress to undertake a colossal effort to compensate victims and their loved ones was enacted in the weeks after the attacks. Billions of dollars were allocated, and a process created to adjudicate claims was set up.

But the lawmakers couldn’t contemplate the horrible magnitude of what was to come: cancers and other illnesses caused by the pulverized debris from Ground Zero that continue to sicken and kill over two decades later.

Convincing a reluctant Congress to extend the fund and put money into it has taken lobbying efforts by 9/11 responders, their families and supporters — including Long Islanders and 9/11 heroes Ray Pfeifer, of Hicksville, a retired FDNY firefighter, and Luis Alvarez, of Oceanside, a retired NYPD detective, both of whom were sickened and later killed by Ground Zero toxins.

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