Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The September 11th Victim Compensation Fraud


The piece dated November 26, 2013 in Newsday by Ridgley Ochs - http://www.newsday.com/news/health/frustration-over-pace-of-9-11-VCF-distribution-1.6502431 - is an unacceptable puff piece: a rationalization of Special Master Sheila L. Birnbaum's utter mismanagement of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). I expected much harder hitting reporting from Newsday. The piece reported that many of the claims remain incomplete because many claimants reported no income information, or the lawyers helping neglected to complete all required forms. That is why the 75 person VCF staff, comprised in large part of bright, young lawyers with white shoe Washington DC law firm Dickstein Shapiro LLP, cannot do economic loss determinations. That assertion belies reason - for the vast majority of these claims - if you look at the application process, however. One of the first documents requested is a claimant's Social Security Administration "earnings record," which simply requires claimants’ to sign a provided Release to submit to the VCF. I cannot speak to what the lawyers working on these claims have or have not submitted but as an academician physically injured at ground zero on 9/11, while acting in my official capacity as an emergency medical technician, I submitted every document, attestation and certification that the VCF requested. Its response: send it all over again. When I did, their response was that I had to be "certified" by the World Trade Center Health Program to be eligible for compensation. When I supplied correspondence from the WTC Health Program disputing that claim, Birnbaum and her staff simply began stonewalling. Consequently, this type of reporting is what enables Birnbaum to get away Scot free with these performance issues. She is too disconnected from the pain and suffering her refusal to conduct these "economic loss" determinations are causing affected first responders. The VCR was not established to provide on-the-job training for Birnbaum and her ilk to make excuses for not expediting the claims’ review, approval, and compensation process - irrespective of what one lawyer Och interviewed concluded. And she does not have to re-invent the wheel. Kenneth Feinberg, who was the first Special Master, already established an effective model. But there has been virtually no oversight of Birnbaum’s disastrous tenure as Special Master. This inexcusable lack of accountability by the Department of Justice (DOJ) has only emboldened her to in one instance respond to my email requesting a response by writing back, "why should I.” The shocking reply by a person charged with making a decision - sometime in my lifetime - enabling me to have enough monies with which to live decently and raise my child speak volumes about Birnbaum’s commitment or lack thereof toward first responders. The deliberate foot dragging about which Och's tepidly writes is not merely “frustrating,” but a deadly serious matter because of the sheer amount of first responders that are being adversely affected. Birnbaum really needs to be taken to task. Anyone holding such a sensitive position of public trust that has not met objective performance standards measured by equally objective outcomes - only showing a dismal 1% of 1% of total claims paid - would have been dismissed for inadequate performance by now. Attorney General Eric Holder has really dropped the ball with Sheila Birnbaum. Och should have dug a little and asked John Feal – i.e., Felgood Foundation - about the first responder he had to bury several months back literally passing the hat because of this situation. It is outrageous. Birnbaum needs to be exposed for what she is: an unabashed, unapologetic obstructionist unconscionably clutching the purse string of monies allocated by the Congress for our benefit. All the while she and her colleagues from Dickstein Shapiro LLP slop greedily at the trough of public largess, (pulling down a big, fat seven figure salary from a lucrative partnership with prestigious Quinn Emanuel Urguhart & Sullivan, LLP), living in the lap of luxury, enjoying all the accoutrements of wealth, laughing all the way to the bank by cynically authoring “annual reports,” shamelessly written to keep the gravy train rolling, which can barely stand the scrutiny of a serious audit if there was the political will to actually conduct one given her abysmal stats. Unfortunately first responders continue suffering severe economic hardship relying on sketchy reporting and impotent elected officials to champion our cause.