The Department of Justice has announced it's sending the last installment — nearly $17 million of a total $20 million — to aid survivors of the October 2017 deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. The toll 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?" He observed, "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 its 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 by criminal fines, penalties, special forfeitures and special assessments, not taxpayers. Then there is an ancillary program called the Antiterrorism and 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, and help 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 of 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 counseling, therapy, rehabilitation, trauma recovery and legal aid.
I contacted the DOJ to ask for more details. What are 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 question about the distribution of grants to the Vegas country concertgoers versus gay nightclub patrons in Orlando. It turns out that after the June 2016 terrorist attack at Pulse Nightclub, where 49 died and more than 50 others were injured, the AEAP sent $8.4 million in assistance.
To 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 $8.3 million. Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the fund sent grants totaling $9.2 million, 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 AEAP has paid out $38,652,919 to victims of mass violence and domestic terrorism. And there would be more to give, if only state, local and tribal governments and nonprofit 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.
To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book, "Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box," is available on Amazon.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.