rime victim compensation programsoperating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and Guamprovide financial assistance to victims for crime-related out-of-pocket expenses, such as medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages, and, in cases of homicide, funerals, loss of support, and counseling for secondary victims. Many programs also pay for crime scene cleanup, durable medical equipment like wheelchairs and hospital beds, transportation to medical providers, rehabilitation, physical therapy, and ramps or modifications to homes for paralyzed victims. All state victim compensation programs are payors of last resort, covering losses not recouped from other sources such as public or private insurance, employee benefits, offender restitution, or civil judgments. The state programs set their own administrative rules and reimbursement maximums, which average $25,000 and range from a low of $10,000 to no limit for medical expenses (as in New York). A few states set higher limits for catastrophic or permanent injuries that could be used for special home and health aids. In view of the large medical, rehabilitative, and counseling expenses faced by gun victims, participants agreed that VOCA- and state-funded compensation programs provide much-needed financial assistance. Although there is no available estimate of the number of gun victims who benefit from these programs,48 Program Director of the D.C. Superior Courts Crime Victims Compensation Program Laura Banks Reed stated that 30 percent of claims paid by her program are to gun victims.
We are in a new era of crime victim compensation: program funding is more secure than ever before, and state administrators are more responsive to the needs of crime victims and flexible in administering their programs. Participants identified special needs of gun violence victims and made the following recommendations for state crime victim compensation programs.
RECOMMENDATION: Where necessary, state compensation caps and limits should be raised for mental health counseling to permit long-term counseling. States should consider extending benefits to more secondary victims, such as students or coworkers who witness a shooting, even if they are not family members and were not threatened by the shooter.
RECOMMENDATION: Limits on medical expenses should be raised for catastrophic injuries, and programs should be flexible in defining eligible expenses as the needs of gun victims become clear to them. For example, New Jersey pays for childcare and daycare services along with domestic help at a rate of $50 a day. This type of innovative benefit allows family members to continue working rather than having to stay home to care for a minor victim or an adult.
RECOMMENDATION: Encouraging victim cooperation with law enforcement is a valid goal of state compensation programs. However, the Federal VOCA Victim Compensation Final Program Guidelines encourage program administrators to be flexible about cooperation requirements in cases where they may present special barriers for the victim. Law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and compensation program staff should be trained to understand and be sensitive to the fears of these victims.
RECOMMENDATION: Compensation programs should waive time limits for filing applications to avoid penalizing young victims.