Justice had not released full details on the awards, but other press reports said 14 of the 15 awardees are firefighters, and all worked in or around Ground Zero. The VCF has informed them of their award, and informed a total of 100 claimants that they are eligible for an award — several thousand are thought to have applied.

Under the law, $800 million can be released over the first five years, and the remaining $2 billion becomes available in the last year of the program in 2017.

Several New York congressmen praised Justice's initial wave of awards.

"These first awards begin fulfilling the promise made by the Zadroga Act: that responders, survivors and workers near Ground Zero had measurable economic harm occur as a result of the 9/11 attacks," Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) said in a joint release.

"This is truly great news for those who have lost so much and waited so long for help. These victims and their families can now rest a little bit easier, knowing that their claims have been validated."

Maloney and Nadler were scheduled to hold a briefing after a meeting designed to help people apply for compensation under the VCF.