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The 9/11 victims’ fund nearly depleted

A 9/11 memorial fund could run out of funding before those affected have been treated.

In 2011, Congress passed the Zadroga Act and it was signed into law by former President Barack Obama. It authorized the creation of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. The VCF was created to help those financially who were physically harmed or had family members who were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Since its creation, $7.3 billion has been appropriated to the VCF, but it is reaching the bottom of the pot.

“We do periodic assessments of our data,” said VCF Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya to the Seattle Times. “Looking at the data more recently, I’m starting to get a little concerned.”

Advocates are worried those who file for compensation will be awarded less money as the fund dwindles.

As of Aug. 31, the VCF assessed 38,502 claims this year, a 28 percent increase from the 30,081 claims last year.

Bhattacharyya suspects those numbers will continue to rise.

With the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks occurring last week, the federal World Trade Center Health Program has counted 9,795 first responders, downtown workers, residents, students and others who have been diagnosed or died from cancer caused by 9/11.

“9/11 is still killing,” said John Feal, an advocate for WTC responders, to the New York Times. “Sadly, this fragile community of heroes and survivors is shrinking by the day.”

Feal says someone dies from an illness caused by 9/11 roughly every three days. There are no official records keeping track of those who have died following the travesty, but Feal guesses it is close to 2,100. He claims by 2021 more people will have died from illnesses caused by 9/11 than the 2,700 who died on that day in the Twin Towers.

Seeing cancer rise after a number of years is not unusual due to the latency period after exposure to harmful substances.

After the towers fell, a thick coat of dust settled onto the streets of Manhattan. As chemicals saturated the air, first responders breathed in asbestos, benzene, mercury and stepped on fiberglass.

“There are diseases with long latency periods,” said Bhattacharyya. “Mesothelioma is one that is talked about often, and you won’t even see it for 15 or 20 years. We won’t see those claims for a while.”

Despite concerns, a source in the VCF said they still have more the $3 billion to offer to victims.

“We’re required by statute to periodically reassess our policies and procedures to make sure we are prioritizing the claimants with the most debilitating conditions,” said the VCF source. “Her concerns are part of the periodic reassessment process that was built into the statute. It’s part of what the statute requires VCF to do.”

Many people scoured through the debris following the disaster, inhaling the deadly dust as they looked for survivors amongst the ruins leading to health complications.

Among those was a retired FDNY captain who lingered non-stop among the devastation for a week after 9/11. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and inoperable pancreatic cancer and has recently received $1.5 million from the VCF.

Despite the tragedy, Feal believes added funding can correct some of the damage done.

“We call ourselves the greatest nation in the world,” said Feal in an NPR interview. “But yet we have a strange way of repeating history, and letting veterans come home from war, or 9/11 responders, or just responders now across the nation, how they sacrifice themselves and then we don’t take care of them. That’s sad.”