Christopher Baione in News India Times on 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund
Today, News India Times published an article on the recently appointed Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Rupa Bhattacharyya, which featured comments by Pitta & Baione LLP’s own Christopher J. Baione. The full article is republished here (links added for context):
Rupa Bhattacharyya to Speed up 9/11 Claims Processing
Rupa Bhattacharyya, the newly-appointed Special Master for the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund turned somewhat emotional recounting her experience in Washington D.C on that fateful day during a ‘Meet and Greet’ last week in New York with representatives of law firms handling 9/11 victims cases
In a brief speech she introduced herself before some 20-odd people representing law firms in the lobby of Ted Weiss Federal Building, a few blocks from the fallen twin-towers in lower Manhattan, Aug. 2.
Mentioning her immigrant background, she recalled how she walked back home from work in Washington D.C. on that day as she was afraid to board a train, and that it was only after she reached home she heard about the attack in New York. “As she spoke here, you could see in her eyes that she was getting very emotional and that the tragedy really touched her. One could see that she is very passionate about what she is doing here for the victims,” Christopher J. Baione, partner at Pitta & Baione LLP, one of the firms present at the event, told this correspondent.
A day before Bhattacharyya announced that the VCF is once again accepting new claims using a new claim form that was redesigned following the Dec. 18, 2015, reauthorization of the VCF. The new claim form has a significantly revamped and improved online claims system. Claimants who do not have consistent access to the Internet will still be able to file a hard copy claim using the new form, she said.
The 9/11 VCF staff learned a great deal, she noted, over the past five years about which claim form questions were truly necessary and as a result, the fund was able to reduce the number of overall questions and combine the four versions of the old claim form into one, simplified form.
Additionally, VCF staff solicited input from many law firms that represent VCF claimants and incorporated their feedback into the new form and the redesigned online claims system.
“We appreciate the 9/11 community’s support as the fund’s staff worked over the past six months to finalize the new claim form and believe claimants will agree it was worth the wait,” Bhattacharyya said. “There is much work yet to be done and I stand ready to help the VCF build upon its successes and move into the next phase of the program with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to the 9/11 community to provide the deserved compensation to those who have suffered as a result of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” she said.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was first opened under the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act of 2001, which was signed into law 10 days after 9/11 to protect the airline industry from thousands of potential tort claims. This fund compensated those who died or were hurt by the attacks and in the hours immediately after. The fund closed in 2003.
Years later, individuals who were in Lower Manhattan after 9/11 began to develop what was referred to as “World Trade Center cough”: A persistent cough linked to exposure to toxins, dust, and debris on, and in the months after, 9/11.
On Jan. 2, 2011, President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act which reopened the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and established the World Trade Center Health Program which provides free medical monitoring, treatment and medication to those suffering from 9/11 related illnesses. The Act provided $2.775 billion in funding to the VCF.
With the launch of the new claim form, the online claims system has returned to full functionality, including the ability to file online amendments to previously submitted claims. “We were pleased to meet with Rupa Bhattacharyya and observed firsthand her compassion for the victims and motivation to provide funding as quickly as possible to those in need,” Baione told News India Times.
Asked if she has given any timeframe for processing claims, Baione said she will get things done as quickly as possible. “She said she has made it clear to the VCF staff that the number one priority would be to process and pay claims with thoughtful consideration and without unnecessary delay. There will be no slowdown while I get up to speed,” Baione said quoting Bhattacharyya.
“All of us were pretty impressed by her commitment and we greatly look forward to working with the VCF under her leadership to compensate victims suffering from conditions caused by their exposure to toxins on,” Baione said, adding that Bhattacharyya, who claims New Orleans, Louisiana as her hometown has been meeting even before formally taking over as the new VCF master, with groups affected by 9/11 such as unions and public officers who responded to the attacks.