- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 9, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - The taxpayer-backed 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund has approved more than one-fifth of eligible claims, totaling nearly a half-billion dollars, after a sluggish start last year.

The fund released figures Tuesday - two days before the 13th anniversary of the attacks - showing it has decided compensation claims for 1,843 first responders and other applicants totaling about $494 million.

That’s about one-fifth of the 7,885 claims the fund has deemed eligible for compensation so far.

Another 1,226 claims are under review, 24 have been denied and 7,314 are waiting on documentation before a decision on eligibility can be reached. About half of the claims put on hold involve people who have stopped responding to requests for additional medical information.

Benjamin Chevat, the executive director of the advocacy group 9/11 Health Watch, says the fund - backed by a $2.78 billion Congressional appropriation - has made “good, solid” progress.

“They’re making improvements,” Chevat says. “It’s not where we thought they would be at this point, but clearly they had problems at the beginning.”

The fund reported compensation decisions on nearly 700 claims in the last two months alone - a stark contrast to the 112 decisions made last year in its first 11 months of issuing payments.

Overall, more than 55,000 people have completed the initial registration with the fund, but only 16,449 people have submitted forms for a decision on eligibility, the fund said.

Of the 9,111 cleared for an eligibility determination, 8,236 have had cancer, the fund said.

The fund’s special master, Sheila Birnbaum, acknowledged the “great strides” made in the last year in a statement Tuesday and cited Thursday’s 9/11 anniversary as “a reminder that we must increase our efforts and build on our recent progress.”

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