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1,300 seek payments from state victim fund after Las Vegas shooting

Updated October 20, 2017 - 3:33 pm

About 1,300 people have filed applications seeking assistance from Nevada’s Victims of Crime program as a result of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The fund, which has about $12 million, is used to pay for a variety of services, including medical bills, funerals and counseling. Fund payouts are capped at $35,000 per individual, but it only issues cash in the case of lost wages and for reimbursable expenses, program manager Rebecca Salazar said.

The demand for the fund is unprecedented, Salazar said, and far exceeds the exceeds the more than 550 people killed or injured at the Route 91 Harvest festival.

The program covers counseling expenses for those who attended the shooting and weren’t hurt but need such services, which could explain the high number of applications, she said.

“We have a process to follow to ensure any payments we make are for legitimate expenses,” Salazar said.

The application

To apply for aid, victims must complete a five-page application and submit related receipts from expenses that need to be reimbursed or bills that need to paid. The application also asks applicants to attach the crime-related police report.

In fiscal year 2017 it took about eight days to approve an application when submitted without a police report. If a report was included, it took about 27 hours. Payments typically start within four weeks and can begin before services for a victim are complete.

Californians comprised more than half of the 58 people killed. Only seven concert-goers lived in Nevada, with six of those being from the Las Vegas Valley. Salazar said her office does not yet have data on where the applicants live.

“We will have that information available at a later date, but for now we are focused on processing the large volume of applications we are receiving,” she said.

California victims

Salazar said Nevada is working with the California Victim Compensation Board to assist California residents affected by the shooting.

California residents are eligible to apply for benefits — but not for the same expense — both from Nevada’s and California’s program, said Julie Nauman, executive officer of the compensation board in California.

Janice Mackey, a board spokeswoman, said the board has received 924 applications related to the shooting as of Friday. Nauman said her office receives 50,000-60,000 applications in a typical year. Nauman was unable to say how much is in the fund, but she said the board administered $53 million in the last fiscal year.

“This is not going to be a normal year,” she said, adding that between the wildires in Northern California and the Las Vegas shooting, her team is spread very thin.

The California victims of crime website has a link at the top of its page that answers questions for victims of the Route 91 attack: “Were you or a family member there? We can help,” the site says.

California, the site says, offers aid “whether or not you were injured in the attack. Even if you have no expenses today, we encourage you to apply now in case you incur expenses in the future, such as counseling.”

Legal aid

Barbara Buckley, executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, said her agency received about 180 inquiries about financial help following the shooting.

“So when we saw people with financial issues, we referred them all to the Victims of Crime program,” she said.

The legal aid center is still getting such inquiries and will help victims complete an application, Buckley said. The center also will help with appeals if legitimate applications are denied, she said.

The agency recently helped a good Samaritan who took shooting victims to the hospital, Buckley said. The man’s car was shot and his insurance company denied a damage claim, saying he was at fault, she said.

VOC funding

The Victims of Crime program took in 3,093 applications in fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30. Of that number, 2,558 were approved with 11 applications awaiting a decision as of June 30. That was an increase of 114 applications over fiscal year 2016.

In all, $13.2 million in benefits were provided to victims last fiscal year. Of this total, $4.66 million came from the fund. An additional $8.56 million was covered through cost containment efforts and other practices. For example, a provision in the Affordable Health Care Act allows victims of crime to qualify retroactively for Medicaid benefits.

The fund is financed primarily by fines and penalties paid by convicted offenders, not by tax dollars.

A similar fund helped victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016. The federal Office for Victims of Crime awarded an $8.5 million grant for the shooting victims in 2017. The funding was used to provide support to the victims, families and communities who were affected by the attack.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter. Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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