Rolando Vizcarra choked on his words as he described his late wife Diana, and the cherished moments leading up to her untimely death from cancer.
“Oh, my beautiful wife. She was a great mom for her kids and a wonderful wife. She was my best friend,” he told Fox News, pausing to take a deep breath. “She’s definitely my soulmate and my one-of-a-kind.”
“I never would have thought something like this would happen,” he continued.
Diana was 40 when she passed away on Sept. 1, 2016. The slender blonde, a mother of two girls, was active at the gym and careful about what she ate.
But a little more than a year before her death, she developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. Doctor after doctor brushed it off as bronchitis or “just a cough,” Vizcarra said. Until finally the cause was revealed: gastric carcinoma, a form of stomach cancer linked to her years spent on Wall Street.
“She was a data entry clerk for the crude oil stock,” Vizcarra continued. The 48-year-old widower, who now lives in Florida, did not learn until years later — after Jon Stewart famously pleaded with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to continue supporting 9/11 first responders and survivors — that his family was qualified to receive compensation through the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
For Vizcarra, his family was given some “peace of mind” through the relief. But for some who haven’t yet discovered the program, time is running out.
“I was cheated out of life,” he continued. “I know that we were meant to have been together forever.”
Because Diana was working on Wall Street on and around Sept. 11, 2001, she and her family were eligible through the lookback window created by the 2019 reauthorization of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
The Vizcarras filed their claim in 2020, when Rolando finally learned about the fund.
“This information is going out there to help others, [and] is, in a way, her still living on,” Rolando continued, through tears.
Rolando is speaking out now with the hope that others who have not yet done so will register their claims before it’s too late: 9/11 first responders and survivors and their families looking to file claims based on previously diagnosed related illnesses or deaths now have less than six months left to do so.
The “lookback window” — the period that allows for people to file claims related to previously diagnosed illnesses — expires on July 29.
By the end of 2020, the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) awarded nearly $7.76 billion total rewards to more than 34,400 people, VCF Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya wrote in the annual status report published this week. The fund was first created in 2001 and was reactivated in 2011 when then-President Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010.
But the fund began to run out of money through the years, prompting former President Donald Trump in July 2019 to sign The Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which extended the VCF claim-submission deadline to Oct. 1, 2090, and allowed for the appropriation of “such funds as may be necessary to pay all eligible claims,” according to the fund.
But some people have another, much sooner deadline to worry about: anyone certified by the World Trade Center Health Program before July 29, 2019, or anyone looking to file a claim for someone who suffered a 9/11-related death before that the 2019 date must file their VCF claim by July 29, 2021.
“I figure that there are at least [5,000] to 6,000 family members that don’t realize that they are entitled to make a claim for their deceased loved one who died more than two years ago from a 9/11 illness,” Michael Barasch told Fox News. “And they haven’t yet registered the claim because they simply don’t realize that they are eligible.”
Barasch is a partner at Barasch & McGarry, a law firm that has recovered more than $2 billion for its clients through the fund.
Many people — especially, as Barasch said, “the 300,000 plus office workers and the 50,000 students and teachers and the 25,000 downtown residents” — did not, or still do not know, that the free World Trade Center Health Program and the VCF are also available to non-first responders.
“For the vast majority, the secretaries, the staff, the cafeteria staff — the clerks, the people working in the Xerox room, the paralegals — they are getting the same illnesses and dying from those illnesses, just like the firefighters and cops” Barasch added. “Their families should know that there is an opportunity that expires on July 29 for them to register a claim for their lost loved one and have financial security.”