The Department of Justice has announced it’s sending the last installment – nearly $17 million of a total $20 million – to aid survivors of last October’s deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. The toll from that sniper attack was 58 dead and some 600 physically injured* after a lone gunman took up a high position within the Mandalay Hotel and began shooting at a group that had gathered for an outdoor country music concert. It became the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
But wait a minute. What about all the other victims of mass shootings?Do they get to dip into the government coffers for monetary relief? Where does all this money come from?
Reader Dan Klein first brought this story to my attention and he asked some intriguing questions. “Does this mean that every time there is a mass shooting in America the Department of Justice will set aside millions for the victims? What DOJ policy governs this?” And this observation from Klein, “58 dead, but not 50? Las Vegas, Nevada but not Orlando, Florida? A country music concert, but not a gay nightclub?” And Klein, a retired police sergeant from Albuquerque, New Mexico, wondered if the DOJ has enough money in their budget to offer this type of multimillion grant to all citizens who fall victim to the ever-growing number of mass shooters and domestic terrorists.
Following bureaucratic acronyms, I found that the DOJ has an Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and within that is the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) which is largely funded from criminal fines, penalties, special forfeitures and special assessments and not from taxpayers. Then there is an ancillary program called the Antiterrorism Emergency Assistance Program. AEAP has $50 million at its disposal every year to distribute specifically to victims of terrorism and mass violence. The money can go to help survivors with medical bills and lost wages, for law enforcement costs associated with the crime and some funds have gone to reimburse hospitals for their extraordinary care during a mass violence crisis. AEAP is funding the Las Vegas payout via grants to local and state crime victim assistance programs in Nevada.
The relatives of those murdered in Las Vegas, and those whose injuries left them permanently damaged, will get a maximum of $275,000 each. Also in line for compensation are medical personnel, first responders, concert staff, vendors and witnesses to the deadly event. In making the announcement about this latest grant acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said the money is to help defray costs of counselling, therapy, rehabilitation, trauma recovery and legal aid.
I contacted the DOJ to ask for more details. What is the criteria for awarding these multimillion-dollar grants? Does a grant depend on the body count or the property damage incurred? In general, my DOJ contact said, “The criminal act needs to be sufficiently large that the jurisdiction cannot provide needed services to victims of the incident with existing resources and the event places an undue hardship on the jurisdiction…” And, she said, AEAP funds don’t cover property damage only human loss.
So, back to Klein’s equal distribution question about grants to country concert goers in Vegas vs. gay nightclub patrons in Orlando. It turns out that after the June 2016 terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub, where 49 died and more than 50 others were injured, the AEAP sent $8.4 million in assistance.
To those victims of the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack where a husband and wife team stormed a holiday office party, murdering 14 and seriously injuring 22 others, the AEAP distributed more than $4 million.
After the Boston Marathon bombing AEAP awarded $500,000. Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 the fund sent grants totaling nearly $780,000 which covered mental health services and other support for victims as well as enhanced safety and security at local schools and parks.
Since 2015, the Emergency Assistance Program has paid out $38,652,919 to victims of mass violence and domestic terrorism. And there is more to give if only state, local, tribal governments and non-profit victims assistance programs would ask. Typically, the OVC reaches out to locations within one day of a mass casualty event but if groups don’t file an official application, they can’t get a grant.
“Despite our best efforts,” my DOJ contact said, “many people are not aware of this valuable tool used to support victims.”
We read a never-ending stream of stories about these horrific acts and what registers? The number of dead and injured. After that it is easy to move on and forget what happens to those affected after the police tape comes down and the reporters move on to other stories. It says a lot about our country that an emergency fund like this needs to exist. One can’t help but wonder if the AEAP’s $50 million annual budget might be better used to somehow help curb the violence before it erupts.