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Most Ground Zero Volunteers Still Waiting For Workers' Comp
By Devlin Barrett, Associated Press Writer - September 9, 2004

WASHINGTON -- More than half the injury claims from ground zero volunteers have yet to be resolved, according to a review by congressional investigators.

A study of workers' compensation claims from the cleanup at the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11 attacks found that about 90 percent of the 10,182 claims for workers' comp have been resolved.

In contrast, less than a third, or 31 percent, of the 588 volunteer claims were resolved as of June 30, 2004, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found.

A second draft report prepared by the GAO found New York hospitals received 6,232 emergency room visits and nearly 500 hospitalizations related to the attack between Sept. 11 and Sept. 28, 2001 _ but officials still cannot determine the total number of people injured in the attacks.

The GAO's findings are contained in testimony prepared to be delivered Wednesday to a House committee. An advance copy of the draft testimony was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

"Why aren't we able to get a true assessment of what these workers encountered?" said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee, which will hear the testimony. "This has too much of a feeling like the Gulf War illness."

The federal government, he said, "needs to get more focused on this issue. It's not getting the attention it should get."

After the attacks, the government gave New York state $175 million to help pay workers' compensation claims arising from the Sept. 11 attacks and the dangerous cleanup effort.

The GAO found the state Workers' Compensation Board had used about $49 million of that money as of mid-2004.

The state used $44 million to reimburse two state entities, the Crime Victims Board and the Insurance Fund, for benefits paid to Sept. 11 victims or their survivors.

The Crime Victims Board was used because state officials believed it would be the most efficient way to deliver some immediate benefits to victims and their families.

Another $4.4 million was spent upgrading the compensation board's computer system and backup procedures to be better prepared in the event of another major attack.

The board had determined that 42 percent of claims proved a connection between Sept. 11 and the injury or death suffered. Approximately 1,000 additional claimants were found to have established a link between Sept. 11 and their injuries, but no money had been paid. In some of those cases, the board told investigators, the worker in question had not missed more than seven days of work.

State officials told investigators the relatively high percentage of unresolved volunteer claims was due mainly to instances in which claimants have not pursued their initial filings, possibly because they made their claim before any symptoms developed. Other unresolved cases included those in which no conclusive proof had been found of a connection between the illness and Sept. 11, the GAO reported.



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