‘Routine’ Shooting Victims Have Trouble Getting Aid

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Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr

Hours after a gunman killed 58 people and injured hundreds more in Las Vegas last October, donations for victims and families began pouring in. A GoFundMe campaign raised $11 million in three weeks.  At least $28 million was donated after the massacre in Newtown; $2.4 million after San Bernardino; $31 million after Orlando.

Mass shootings are not the norm. Each year, tens of thousands of people are wounded in incidents of gun violence. The injured are disproportionately young black men, who have few services  geared to support them, The Trace reports. Some victims require extensive therapy to relearn how to write, speak, or walk. There may be follow-up surgeries to remove bullet fragments, treatment for pain and infections, and counseling for stress, anxiety, and depression. Roughly one-third of hospitalized gunshot patients are uninsured.

State victim-compensation programs reimburse victims and families for expenses like medical bills, mental health counseling, lost wages, and funeral costs. Revenue comes from offender fees and fines, along with federal grants under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). In 2016, compensation programs paid more than 250,000 claims, totaling more than $348 million.

Victims of violent crime face many hurdles in applying for funds. For traumatized victims, the eligibility criteria and applications can be daunting, and processing times are long. Reporting the crime to police can deter victims from neighborhoods where distrust of the criminal justice system runs high. Most vexing is that state laws can exclude people at the highest risk of being shot.

While black men disproportionately experience violence, they are more likely than whites to have been convicted of a felony, which can disqualify them from receiving funds. Victim compensation “is set up to really help victims, and yet it’s ironic, because it often really adds to the pain that they are going through,” said Alicia Boccellari of the University of California-San Francisco’s Trauma Recovery Center.

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