Free Legal Help Offered to 9/11 Victims Seeking Compensation

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People suffering from certain World Trade Center-related health conditions can get free legal help to apply for financial support.

The free help from City Bar Justice Center in Manhattan, which held a one-day clinic this week and will host another one in May, is in contrast to a bevy of law firms which are hoping to win contingency fees representing people with World Trade Center health problems.

The Victims Compensation Fund has limited those fees to 10 percent of the payout – a smaller cut than usual.

Cardozo and Columbia law schools are also running sessions in the coming months.

“Some of the questions we’ve been getting are things like: ‘My employer’s no longer in business; how can I show I worked there?’ ‘I no longer have my W-2’s; how can I prove I was really employed in the cleanup effort?’” said Lynn Kelly, executive director of  the City Bar Justice Center. “All those things are really evidence questions, and lawyers are good at figuring out ways to establish proof.”

About 150 people attended this session and two earlier ones offered by the Justice Center. It's not clear how many people have applied for compensation since the Fund opened for business last year.

Kelly said many people who came to the Justice Center this week were former cleanup workers from office buildings near Ground Zero – and they needed help with technological, as well as legal problems.

“For some people this online application is just too much for them, they’re really stymied by the idea of having to submit it electronically,” she said.

People have until October 2013 to fill out applications for Victims Compensation – and there is a two-year grace period after that for people with newly discovered health conditions they can prove are related to the aftermath of 9/11.

Under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health Act, people must prove they worked at Ground Zero or lived or worked nearby. There is a relatively short list of conditions that make people eligible. The main categories are respiratory, digestive and muscular and physical problems.

Congress excluded mental health problems and cancer, among others. Cancer, in particular, was left off for lack of evidence, but there is an annual review of the latest research, to decide whether fresh evidence is more conclusively establishing a cause-and-effect link between World Trade Center dust and cancer. A review panel is concluding its survey this month and will issue a report in early April.

Then it will be up to the U.S. Health and Human Services plan to rule by this summer whether people with cancer will qualify for compensation.