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Sept 11 Victim Fund

The fund set up to help 9/11 responders with health claims is rapidly running dry

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By RAPHAEL PIRES, WLOS

BUNCOMBE COUNTY, N.C. (CIRCA via WLOS) — It’s been more than 17 years since the 9/11 attacks, but now, the money set aside for people with illnesses related to them is running out.

"They had no way of knowing how many people would develop tumors or cancers or some of the other problems that have arisen," said Buncombe County Emergency Services Director Jerry Vehaun.

Vehaun was on the front lines in New York following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“What we do is provide temporary morgues and do body identification," said Vehaun.

Sept 11 Memorial Plaza
A woman places her hand on a name etched in the wall of one of the pools at the 9/11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center site in New York on Sept. 12, 2011, the first day that the memorial was open to the public. (AP Photo/Mike Segar, Pool)

He said it’s something he will never forget.

"You can still picture it, even after all this time,” said Vehaun. “I can still see myself there at ground zero.”

Though Vehaun hasn’t had any illnesses related to his time there, nearly 40,000 people have filed claims for the victim compensation fund, and 19,000 of those claims are still pending.

“Some of this stuff has taken 15 years or so to develop and become a real problem for these people," Vehaun said.

Nearly $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.3 billion fund.

The problem is that fund officials estimate it will cost another $5 billion to pay the pending claims and claims expected to be submitted before the fund’s 2020 deadline.

Without that funding, officials say, claims made by Feb. 1 would get paid 50 percent of their prior value, and claims made after that would be paid only 30 percent.

APTOPIX Sept 11 Anniversary
One World Trade Center, center, rises above the National September 11 Memorial &amp; Museum at the World Trade Center site on Sept. 6, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

“I would hope that Congress would come back and fund more money to take care of the people who have had problems develop later on, not just immediately after 9/11,” Vehaun said.

That's what some members of Congress are trying to do.

Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Peter King, R-N.Y., are sponsoring a bill that would “restore any cuts to awards, ensure future eligible recipients are fully compensated and make the (Victim Compensation Fund) program permanent.”

“I would hope they would do it fairly quickly, so it doesn't leave these people wondering if they are going to receive enough funds for themselves or their family members," Vehaun said.

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