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Las Vegas shooting victims must wait longer for donated funds

Updated November 15, 2017 - 5:25 pm

The protocol outlining eligibility for the more than $15 million raised for victims of the Las Vegas shooting is mostly finalized. The application process, however, is not.

A 16-member committee with the Las Vegas Victims Fund, a Nevada nonprofit established to oversee the consolidation and distribution of money raised for victims, is working to complete the details of the application process. Victims of the Oct. 1 shooting and heirs of the 58 people killed will have to apply for a share of the money.

“We need to make sure that by the time a final protocol is adopted we have the infrastructure in place so that people can file claims and the claims can be processed,” said Scott Nielson, chairman of the Las Vegas Victims Fund committee.

Nielson said the committee hoped to have the work done sooner and is working to wrap things up as soon as possible. He said the protocol could be finished within a few days.

Unprecedented need

The protocol that was finalized to distribute money raised for victims and survivors of last year’s Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando dictated that people file their claim forms via the U.S. Postal Service. Individuals also were able to submit a mail, email or telephone request for a face-to-face meeting or telephone meeting with fund administrators.

Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, which helped create that protocol in Florida, said he’s not certain how things will work in Las Vegas.

“I don’t know if we could do it the same way we’ve done it before, because the numbers are just bigger,” said Dion, who is helping advise the Las Vegas Victims Fund committee. “One of the concerns is the volume of potential claimants.”

In the Pulse shooting, 49 people were killed and 68 people were injured. In the Las Vegas shooting, 58 were killed and more than 546 were injured.

If the Las Vegas Victims Fund were to match payouts to the 299 victims and their families following the Pulse nightclub shooting, the fund would need at least $560 million. However, people who were inside the nightclub but not physically injured were eligible for payment. The Las Vegas Victims Fund committee hasn’t determined whether it will adopt an identical standard.

Currently, the Las Vegas Victims Fund has more than $14 million across GoFundMe, the National Compassion Fund and an account at Nevada State Bank.

The Las Vegas Victims Fund committee has decided claims can be submitted electronically or via mail, Nielson said.

Other questions the committee faces:

How will claims be managed?

Who will review the claims and work with the FBI to authenticate the identities of claimants?

Who will help people through the claims process and make sure everything is submitted correctly?

“There’s a lot of moving pieces,” Dion said.

‘Horrific month and a half’

California resident Sandy Perry Rees said the pieces can’t come together soon enough.

Perry Rees is the stepmother of Denise Cohen’s two sons. Cohen was killed in the Oct. 1 shooting.

“It’s been a horrific month and a half,” Perry Rees said.

The added financial pressure of having to pay for unexpected costs like flights to Las Vegas and a memorial have only made things harder, she said.

“We’re your average family. We live month to month. It got to the point we had to ask for deferment on some of the bills that we had,” she said.

Paying for groceries also has become difficult.

“It’s all going into overdraft, and now we’re paying fees for that,” Perry Rees said.

She said the family is appreciative of the financial help they’ve received from Zappos and the Nevada Victims of Crime program. A relative set up a GoFundMe account for the family, which is also helping. But she said they are not financially where they’d like to be.

Her stepsons had to take some time off work, and every expense since Oct. 1 has added up.

“There’s still things I’ve got to get done,” she said, adding that she is anxious to get answers on who will be eligible for Las Vegas Victims Fund money and how she can apply.

Next steps

Once the application process is settled, the committee will release a draft protocol for eligibility. The draft will be subject to a public comment period.

Dion said victims of the shooting and their families should go to nationalcompassionfund.org and fill out the Victim and Survivor Contact Form.

“Everybody who is on that list (by filling out the Victim and Survivor Contact Form) is going to get the draft protocols, they’re going to get notices of the town hall meetings explaining the protocols, they’re going to be sent applications. They’re going to be sent information on getting individualized help with your application. So if people want information, we don’t have the answers yet but we know where they need to sign up so that when those answers are available they will be pushed out to them immediately,” Dion said.

After the payment protocol is finalized, claim applications will be made available. In the Orlando case, applications were released 14 weeks after the shooting, and victims and family members had six weeks to apply.

“What we’ve done in the past and our general approach has been that people in similar circumstances get the same level of benefits,” Dion said.

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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