Understanding VCF Appeals: A Brief Overview

November 23, 2020
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As with most government benefit programs, applicants to the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) are often found ineligible for benefits or are awarded fewer benefits than they believe they are entitled to. However, an initial rejection does not mean that your claim has reached the end of the line. The VCF allows dissatisfied applicants and claimants to appeal adverse eligibility and compensation determinations. Below, our VCF lawyers provide an overview of the VCF appeals process. Please contact us directly if you have any questions about your specific situation. 

When to Appeal vs. When to Amend

Whether you should appeal or amend depends on what you want to accomplish. Generally, you should appeal in cases where you are challenging the VCF’s determination on your claim — including both eligibility determinations and compensation determinations. Alternatively, you should amend in cases where you are seeking a new decision based on new information. Appeals of eligibility determinations are appropriate in cases where: 

  • Your claim was found to be ineligible; and 
  • There is no further documentation you can provide to support eligibility; and 
  • You believe that the only way to do so is through testimony at a hearing.

Appeals of compensation decisions are appropriate in cases where: 

  • You believe there was an error in the VCF’s calculation of your award and you disagree with the amount of the award determination, and
  • You can provide additional documentation that directly supports your argument that the award was miscalculated and/or
  • You believe that testimony would be useful in establishing a basis for the VCF to recalculate your award.

For other types of VCF determinations, an amendment is more appropriate, such as in cases where: 

  • You have discovered new information that you did not submit with your claim
  • You were asked to provide additional information by the VCF and failed to do so during the allotted timeframe
  • Your circumstances have changed since receiving your decision letter

For example, assume that you were denied eligibility because you could not document your presence in the New York City Exposure Zone during the necessary time periods. Although you have already submitted all the documentation you have, you believe that you will be able to demonstrate your presence through testimony at a hearing. In that situation, an appeal would be appropriate. On the other hand, assume that you were denied eligibility for the same reason as above but that you subsequently found the lease for the apartment you rented in the exposure zone during the relevant time period. In that situation, an amendment would be appropriate because you are merely providing additional evidence that you failed to include with your initial claim. Every case is different; however, before deciding to appeal or amend your claim, you should speak to our VCF lawyers to ensure that you are doing what is best for your case. 

Our VCF Lawyers Explain How to File an Appeal

The process for filing an appeal is relatively straightforward. When you receive your eligibility or compensation decision letter from the VCF, it will contain an Appeal Request Form. To begin an appeal, you must follow the steps below: 

  • Complete and sign the Appeal Request Form provided and return it to the VCF within 30 days
  • Assemble your Appeal Package, which contains: 
    • A completed Pre-Hearing Questionnaire (included with your decision letter)
    • An Explanation of Appeal 
    • All relevant documentation to support your appeal 
  • Submit your Appeal Package within 60 days of receiving your decision letter

An Explanation of Appeal is a written statement by you (or your 9/11 lawyer) that sets out the grounds for your appeal. Generally, it covers: 

  • The specific eligibility denial reasons that you believe were improperly decided, or the particular components of your award that you believe were incorrectly calculated
  • The specific issues you intend to raise at your hearing for each component of your decision being appealed
  • A listing of the documents you are submitting as part of your Appeal Package to support your arguments for each component of your decision being appealed

The Explanation of Appeal lays the groundwork for your hearing and allows the VCF to determine whether you have valid grounds upon which to appeal their determination. If the VCF determines that your appeal is valid (i.e., that your challenge should be pursued as an appeal rather than an amendment), it will notify you of the date and time of your hearing. While crafting your arguments and assembling your appeals package can seem like a daunting task, our VCF lawyers can help put forward the strongest case possible. 

What to Expect at a Hearing

Most VCF hearings are conducted in person, although the agency does allow for phone or video conference hearings to be held for individuals who cannot appear in person. The hearing itself is non-adversarial — meaning that it will not resemble a typical courtroom proceeding. Instead, these types of hearings are typically conducted by the Special Master or a Hearing Officer from the Special Master’s office who has been specifically trained to handle them. If you are represented by an attorney, he or she will be present with you throughout the hearing. During the hearing, you may present evidence and other information that you believe is necessary to support your appeal. 

You are also allowed to present witnesses, including expert witnesses such as doctors, to testify on your behalf. The Hearing Officer will then ask you and your witnesses questions and examine the evidence you present. After the hearing, the Hearing Officer will make a recommendation to the Special Master, who will then review all the information presented — including your testimony, your Explanation of Appeal file, and any supporting documentation — and issue a decision on your appeal. You will then receive a follow-up letter informing you of the Special Master’s decision. 

Contact our VCF Lawyers for More Information About the Appeal Process

If you are considering appealing a VCF eligibility or compensation decision, you should first speak to an attorney who can help you establish whether an appeal is the best course of action. For more information, please contact the VCF lawyers at Pitta & Baione by using our online contact form or by calling us at 844-982-2667.