GARDEN CITY, Long Island (WABC) -- Volunteer firefighters afflicted with 9/11-related illnesses are sounding the alarm for enrollment in the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) as a key deadline looms.
The cutoff to register for federal funding is July 29, which is the last day for those who have a September 11th-related illness that was certified prior to July 29, 2019.
The same deadline applies to families who lost a loved one certified before July 29, 2019.
Almost 20 years later, volunteer firefighters Courtney Cousins, of the Syosset Fire Department, and Richard Roeill, of the Merrick Fire Department, are both battling serious health issues related to their response to the events of September 11, 2001.
Thankfully, both Cousins and Roeill are registered with the fund, which assists them with medical monitoring, treatment, medication and the financial impacts of their illnesses.
"Don't let those benefits go by the wayside," Cousins said. "Take full advantage for the protection for yourself and for your family."
Cousins was diagnosed with leukemia 10 years ago and later, with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He says he is alive today, because of the health benefits he received through the VCF.
"The World Trade Center health program is not only helpful, it's absolutely lifeline," he said.
Both firefighters want to assure that their fellow first responders who provided assistance at Ground Zero are registered as well, and on Thursday, they spoke about their struggles and the importance of registering for the VCF.
Roeill works closely with John Feal and the FealGood Foundation and has assisted dozens of fellow first responders and civilians who potentially qualify for the program with signing up.
"There's a claim, and then there's registering," he said. "Anybody can file a claim up until 2090 when the bill expires...but to register, to register, you had to have been certified by the World Trade Center Health Program before July 29."
He discussed how easy it is to file an initial claim, as well as talked about resources responders who are impacted can draw on to support their applications.
"The further we get away from 9/11, going on 20 years, it's harder to people to get affidavits and have proof that they were down there," he said.
The group was also joined by representatives of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York, which represents the state's 82,000 volunteer firefighters.
"File the claim," Chairman of Public Relations Chief Robert Leonard said. "If you believe you have a cause for a claim. If you were in Lower Manhattan in the period affected, for the time you needed to be there to be impacted file a claim with the VCF."
Eligibility is not just for first responders, but also includes students, office workers, and residents near the World Trade Center site.
Officials say there two deadlines in the VCF's claim filing process, a Claim Filing Deadline and a Registration Deadline, at it is important to distinguish between the two and be aware of which applies to your individual circumstances.
The "Never Forget the Heroes, James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act" fully funded the VCF and extended the VCF's Claim Filing Deadline until October 1, 2090.
The Claim Filing Deadline is the same for everyone, and although the VCF encourages you to file your claim after you have been certified by the World Trade Center Health Program for a 9/11-related physical health condition and as soon as the full scope of your claimed losses are known, so that your claim for compensation can be reviewed as quickly as possible, the last date on which anyone can file a claim is October 1, 2090.
Registration, however, is not the same as filing a claim and preserves the right to file your claim in the future. It waives no legal rights and does not obligate you to file a claim, but registration serves only to alert the VCF that you may be a potential claimant, and it meets the legal requirement of timeliness set forth in the law.
The Registration Deadline is not the same for everyone and varies according to individual circumstances.
--If you were certified by the WTC Health Program for a 9/11-related physical health condition before July 29, 2019, you are required to register your claim with the VCF by July 29, 2021. This deadline, which is two years from the date of enactment of the VCF Permanent Authorization Act, provides an opportunity for potentially eligible individuals who did not know that the VCF existed or was open to them, did not know that their condition was related to 9/11 exposure, or did not realize that they were eligible to file a VCF claim or that the VCF would be in place beyond the previous 2020 end date, to register to file a claim.
--If you have not been certified by the World Trade Center Health Program for a 9/11-related physical health condition, or if any condition is certified after July 29, 2019, you may register by July 29, 2021, but you are not required to do so. You will be required to register within two years of the latest date on which the WTC Health Program certifies your physical health condition as 9/11-related.
--If you are registering to file a claim for an individual who you believe died of a 9/11-related physical health condition before July 29, 2019, you are required to register with the VCF by July 29, 2021.
--If you are registering to file a claim for an individual who you believe died of a 9/11-related physical health condition after July 29, 2019, you are required to register with the VCF within two years of the date of death.
CLICK HERE to register, file a claim, or get more information about both.
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