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Groups admit struggles in dispersing rally victim funds

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ZACK WAJSGRAS/THE DAILY PROGRESS A newly placed street sign is seen shortly before a ceremony dedicating the street to Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed on Aug. 12 when a car drove through a crowd of counter protesters on the corner of Fourth and Water Streets, on Wednesday. The short ceremony included speeches from Mayor Mike Signer and Heyer's mother Susan Bro.

More than 70 people injured or traumatized by the Unite the Right rally and related events will soon receive money from a victim fund, but the group that raised most of the money apologized on Tuesday for the amount of time it took to release the awards.

The National Compassion Fund: Charlottesville, overseen by the National Center for Victims of Crime, contains $205,984.97, and claimants will each receive between $1,000 and $29,494.99.

The funds were primarily raised through a GoFundMe campaign set up by the Democratic Socialists of America. The organization’s steering committee voted in October to transfer the money to the fund, and the transfer occurred in November.

The NCF has been criticized for taking too long to distribute the funds.

DSA’s National Political Committee issued a statement Tuesday apologizing to survivors and members of the Charlottesville and Richmond DSA chapters.

“We should have had a clear plan for pressuring the NCF, should the process for releasing the funds be drawn out, such as it has been, and had a clear designee in regular communication with our chapters on the ground,” the statement said. “Moving forward, we will take steps to follow the NCF closely and use our organizing capacity to push them to release the remaining Charlottesville medical funds immediately.”

There were 71 claims approved. The estate holder of Heather Heyer, the counter-protester slain on Aug. 12, will receive $29,494.99. Two people who had “life-altering injuries” also will each receive $29,494.99. One person who spent between six nights and 14 nights in the hospital will receive $12,000. Seven people who spent between one night and five nights in the hospital will each receive $6,000.

Receiving $1,000 are 17 people who received outpatient treatment by Aug. 18 and 43 people who were near the rally and experienced psychological trauma.

“The committee wanted to send a message that the psychological trauma that was endured by these folks was every bit as real as a physical injury,” Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said Tuesday.

Dion said they had complaints from fewer than 10 claimants.

“It certainly did take longer than we anticipated and longer that we liked,” he said. “We felt we had to weigh all of our obligations to the donors, to make sure that every one was valid, and we had an obligation to all the victims because if we gave money to anybody who was not validated, that was taking a dollar away from someone who was.”

In an “inadvertent mistake” on a part of a staffer, a personal email address was revealed when one of the claimants was emailed and other claimants were blind carbon copied.

“When we learned about it, we reached out to the individual involved and explained the situation,” Dion said. “They wanted to know everybody who got [the email address] and what groups were they affiliated with. We could provide that information.”

John Kluge, one of the co-chairs of the fund’s steering committee, said the group took privacy concerns extremely seriously from the beginning.

“When this came up, it was not a small thing, and Jeff’s team responded quickly to it,” he said.

The staff member was removed from handling cases after the incident.

Dion said a number of factors contributed to the delay, including the use of paper applications submitted through the mail, the number of medical providers aiding claimants and alternative methods that were used to verify if claimants were present on Aug. 11 and 12.

First, the list was sent to Victim Witness Assistance Program to verify a claimant’s presence.

“The majority of people were not on the victim witness list because there were people who didn’t want to talk to law enforcement, didn’t want to talk to anyone in the government — they weren’t comfortable with that,” Dion said.

The committee established a social validation process that identified 23 different organizations at the rallies and noted an ambassador representing each organization. Claimants could say which group they were with on their applications.

Dion said they had applicants who said they were there independently, and the committee asked them to provide social media posts, photos or receipts from area that day to prove they were there.

“Some people couldn’t do that,” he said. “There were a few people who were not validated because we couldn’t actually show they were there.”

There also were some delays with medical validation.

The committee also decided to let people be eligible for psychological trauma funding even if they hadn’t yet received care. Those claimants were validated through places like the Women’s Initiative.

Kluge said the committee did not explain the process sufficiently.

“We did not do a great job of transparency and keeping everybody updated as well as we should have, which I think prompts people to ask questions, and rightfully so,” he said.

“I can tell you that, personally, this was a huge learning experience for me, as I’m sure it was for committee members as well as Jeff and his staff,” Kluge said. “Charlottesville is not the only tragedy, unfortunately, that the NCVC has been dealing with these last 12 months, but I do think it is unique.”

The community is still struggling with trust, he said, especially in trust with institutions and government affiliated entities.

“We didn’t execute as well as we might have wanted,” Kluge said. “I think that’s part of this learning experience hopefully we won’t ever have to do this again.”

Allison Wrabel is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7261, or @craftypanda on Twitter.

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