LOWER MANHATTAN — Financial compensation is finally in sight for Ground Zero recovery workers and Downtown residents who are still suffering from 9/11-related illnesses — but they will have to wait just a little longer to apply.
Federal officials have been saying for months that the new $2.8 billion Victim Compensation Fund would start accepting applications at the beginning of October, but now the claim forms will not be ready until Thanksgiving, officials said Monday.
"The fund will begin accepting claims next month," Sheila Birnbaum, special master of the fund, said in a statement.
"We wanted to get the fund up quickly, but we wanted to do it right," she said. "We have done that, and the fund has been made stronger as a result of the constructive suggestions and insights of the hundreds of first responders, area residents, and workers I have spoken with during this process."
The Department of Justice, which is overseeing the fund, launched a website Monday that details the application process.
Those who plan to submit a claim can start the three-step process now by creating an account on the website and filling in basic personal information.
Then, on or about Oct. 28, applicants will be able to fill out an eligibility form, explaining their connection to 9/11 and the illnesses they have suffered since then.
Finally, roughly 30 days later, applicants will be able to fill out a compensation form, describing their medical expenses and lost earnings as a result of their 9/11-related illnesses.
There is no need to rush to fill out an application — those who are already sick have until Oct. 3, 2013 to file a claim, while those who get sick in the future have two years from the date of their diagnosis to file a claim, through 2016.
First responders, Ground Zero recovery workers and people who were living, working or going to school below Canal Street on 9/11 are all eligible to apply. The fund covers a range of respiratory and digestive ailments but does not cover mental illnesses or cancer.
Those who are awarded compensation will not see the bulk of their money until the fund closes in 2016, because of the way the way the fund was structured in the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law at the beginning of the year.
Birnbaum said in a statement that the Justice Department will hold seminars this fall to explain the application process.
The Justice Department also posted answers to frequently asked questions Monday and for the first time provided a detailed list of the documentation required to make a claim from the Victim Compensation Fund.
Louis Ferrara, 40, a Rockland County EMT who spent 72 hours at Ground Zero and has been diagnosed with respiratory illnesses and throat cancer, said he has already submitted reams of paperwork to a lawyer to help him apply for compensation, because the rules are too complicated for him to apply on his own.
"I just want to know what's covered…and what's not," Ferrara said. "It's insane."
Those with questions about the Victim Compensation Fund can call 1-855-885-1555.