Federal Death Benefits For World Trade Center Victims

Like all Americans, I watched with shock and horror on Sept. 11 as terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was unnerving to look outside my office window in Washington, DC and see a tower of smoke rising from the Pentagon. But...


type='node' cid='171549' />Like all Americans, I watched with shock and horror on Sept. 11 as terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was unnerving to look outside my office window in Washington, DC and see a tower of smoke rising from the Pentagon. But, that was quickly...


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Under normal circumstances, most survivors file claims with the Bureau of Justice Assistance within the Department of Justice through their own police or fire department. The local department generally provides the bureau with enough information to determine whether a payment should be made. But, the process of demonstrating all the details can take several months. However, in the case of the Sept. 11 attacks, many of the law's requirements were not in doubt.

Following the World Trade Center attacks, President Bush and Congress moved with remarkable speed to streamline the application process. On Sept. 13 President Bush ordered Attorney General John Ashcroft to provide immediate assistance to survivors. That same day, Ashcroft took several specific actions. Rather than require each family to document a firefighter's death, he authorized the FDNY and other public safety agencies to submit blanket certifications. The claims forms submitted by family members were shortened. A special staff went to New York to assist with claims processing and to expedite payments. Additionally, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) sent a team to assist with applications and to provide counseling and other support.

Congress also moved quickly to ease the burdens of victims' families. Within a week, it unanimously approved legislation requiring prompt payment of the benefit. The Bureau of Justice Assistance must pay the death benefit to families of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack victims within 30 days after it receives notice of the death from a police or fire department.

Two days after the terrorist attacks, Ashcroft briefed the press regarding the steps taken to ease the Public Safety Officers Benefits Act claims process. In his remarks, the attorney general said, "The provision of benefits is an insufficient but necessary response on behalf of the American people to the … personnel who died answering the call of their fellow citizens on Sept. 11." The same is true for every firefighter line-of-duty death.


Steve Blackistone, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an attorney and a member of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, MD.