Sunday, August 30, 2009

Victim Compensation

I was over at Shakesville, checking out their blogaround, and stumbled upon this post, about one of the Sodini shooting victims. She is uninsured, and she is putting on a car wash to raise money for her medical bills. Zuska's post is mostly about the implications for healthcare reform, and I'll leave it to you to read the post for that (it's good, and you should), but I wanted to raise awareness about crime victims compensation. This is a program about which not nearly enough people know, and that's a huge problem.

As a victim advocate in Arizona, I'm very familiar with our particular program. In all counties, except Coconino, the comp program is run through the victim services department of the County Attorneys Office. We run it through our agency, which is a standalone 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We are the only agency of our kind in Arizona, as the rest are all housed within the county. To qualify for victims comp, you must be the victim or witness of a crime, you must have reported the crime to law enforcement within 72 hours (unless good cause exists, and exceptions are routinely made in cases of sexual assault and sexual abuse). If eligible, you apply for funds within two years of the crime occurring, meaning, even if you didn't find out about this program until just now, you might still be able to get money. It can cover medical bills, including bills for counseling, crime scene cleanup, funeral expenses, travel expenses incurred as a result of the crime (to and from court, the hospital, your therapist, etc.), lost wages incurred as a result of the crime, etc. The comp program will pay out up to $20,000. Our compensation director takes applications once a month before the compensation board, who reviews each case, and decides to either grant the claim in full, grant a reduced claim, or deny the claim altogether. If your claim is denied, there is an appeals process, and all you have to do is write a letter to the board stating that you want your case looked at again. It is not complicated or difficult.

All states have victim compensation programs. The rules may be different for each of them, but the Office for Victims of Crime has information about each program. If you are, or know someone who is a victim of crime, pass this information along. There is no reason for victims to be throwing bake sales to get their x-rays paid for. The programs exist for you, we are all paying for them, please use them! To find out more information about compensation in your area, check out the OVC's page on comp. They have a link to info about the program in general, as well as a link to a national directory of comp programs.

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