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Hurdles to Healing

Fixing Victim Compensation Funds


Last Updated: 5.20.2024


On August 4, 2019, a father died in his adult son’s arms during the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio that also claimed nine other lives. Dion Green was Derrick Fudge’s only child. The months following his father’s death were “draining—mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and financially.” At first, Dion didn’t even know he was eligible for victim’s compensation, but he was contacted by a victim advocate and applied. In October 2019, he found out that Ohio’s victim compensation program had denied him help with burial costs because his father had a 2011 felony drug conviction. “When I got the denial letter in the mail, I tore it up and threw it in the trash,” Dion said. He felt overwhelmed by the appeals process and angered that his father’s nearly decade-old charge had made him ineligible for financial assistance: “Someone’s past shouldn’t determine the future.”1 Interview with Dion Green by Melissa Paquette, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, March 16, 2021. Since the shooting, Dion has dedicated his life to helping fellow survivors of gun violence and become a vocal advocate for victim compensation. 

Each year, more than 18,000 people in the United States die by gun homicide and more than 35,000 people are shot and wounded in a firearm assault or shooting by police.2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using five years of the most recent available data: 2018 to 2022. Homicide includes shootings by police. Everytown For Gun Safety Support Fund, “EveryStat: United States,” Based on analysis of 2020 HCUP nonfatal injury data. In the aftermath, survivors and families suffer from emotional trauma while managing new financial burdens related to immediate and long-term medical and mental health care, funeral expenses, or even the costs of cleaning a deceased relative’s home. Survivors may also lose wages while they take time off of work to recover, receive physical therapy, or appear in court. Victim compensation is available to survivors of gun crimes and the families of those killed by guns.3Everytown acknowledges that families of those who have experienced gun violence also identify as gun survivors. In this report, survivors of gun crimes may mean those who have been directly impacted, as well as their families. But for Dion and too many others, victim compensation can be denied in some states if they or their loved one had a prior criminal conviction, filled out an application incorrectly, failed to file within a certain time frame, or failed to report or cooperate with law enforcement. These denials force victims and their families to rely on private donations or crowdfunding for funeral and other expenses.

Victim compensation is a form of direct reimbursement to, or on behalf of, crime victims for expenses such as medical and mental health treatment, funeral and burial costs, and lost wages or support. The funding is a mix of state and federal VOCA compensation dollars.  Like the VOCA victim assistance funding, VOCA victim compensation funding is administered by the federal Office for Victims of Crime of the US Department of Justice. Federal victim compensation funding comes from the Crime Victims Fund, which is resourced by court fines and fees, not taxpayer dollars. These funds are distributed to states annually to supplement states’ own victim compensation funds. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, a total of $393,749,715 was paid to applicants as part of VOCA compensation nationwide.4See Appendix: 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey. 

Gun violence victimization is costly and victim compensation funding can help ease the financial burden. However, many of the gun violence survivors who need it most are not able to access this support due to broad exclusionary criteria and bureaucratic red tape. But lawmakers and state VOCA compensation administrators can help by:

(1) Easing state obstacles to accessing compensation, including increasing staffing to process applications, and extending deadlines to report a crime, file a claim, and make an appeal; and

(2) Reforming state laws that limit eligibility based on the victim’s actions during the crime, their criminal history or cooperation with investigators, or receiving collateral compensation, such as GoFundMe donations. 

How does victim compensation work?

Victim compensation funds are a vital resource for survivors of gun violence. But there are many barriers to getting these funds into the hands of those who need help. Bureaucratic obstacles can often be overwhelming to those grieving a loved one who was taken by gun violence, navigating the trauma of a gun injury, or otherwise experiencing the raw emotional toll of survivorship. 


In FY 2019, a total of $393,749,715 was paid to applicants as part of victim compensation nationwide.


A total of $52,635,431 was allocated for funeral expenses for all homicide applications nationwide in FY 2019.

Victim Compensation Funding Stream and Administration

States are responsible for administering and distributing victim compensation funds. Each state has its own compensation law and receives a different number of applications each year. These applications request or are eligible for varying funding amounts. This all results in state-by-state variations in victim eligibility and payouts. For example, in FY 2019, average payouts per approved application for an individual ranged from $514 in Hawaii to $6,938 in Missouri.1Office for Victims of Crime, “Hawaii FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019,” November 15, 2019,; Office for Victims of Crime, “Missouri FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019,” November 15, 2019, See also Appendix: 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey.

Gaps in Victim Awareness

Victim advocates who typically work within law enforcement agencies in the state often connect with survivors of crime and assist with victim compensation applications. State victim compensation administrators then field these applications and determine eligibility. However, the majority of crimes are not reported to law enforcement,2Bureau of Justice Statistics, “NCVS Victimization Analysis Tool (NVAT).” According to BJS NVAT, 44 percent of violent victimizations were reported to police between 2015 and 2019.  and research shows that victims who do not report to law enforcement are less likely to receive vital support.3Bureau of Justice Statistics, “NCVS Victimization Analysis Tool (NVAT).” According to BJS NVAT, between 2015 and 2019, 12 percent of violent crime victims who notified police reported receiving services from victim service agencies, compared to only 6 percent of those who did not report to police. One survey of state compensation directors and law enforcement executives found that many believe that eligible victims are not receiving compensation.4Robert C Davis et al., “US Law Enforcement’s Role in Victim Compensation Dissemination,” International Review of Victimology 27, no. 1 (January 1, 2021): 43–62, The authors of a study of a victim compensation outreach and assistance program in California concluded that “the primary barriers to filing a claim are lack of information about victim compensation and difficulty navigating the application process, not lack of interest or reluctance to access the system.”5Jennifer Alvidrez et al., “Reduction of State Victim Compensation Disparities in Disadvantaged Crime Victims through Active Outreach and Assistance: A Randomized Trial,” American Journal of Public Health 98, no. 5 (May 1, 2008): 882–88,

Victim Eligibility

Victim compensation funds are eligible to survivors of “criminal violence,” which includes gun violence.6The term survivors includes those who have experienced a direct victimization or the families of victims who lost their lives. Federal guidelines encourage states to prioritize victims of violent crime,7Office for Victims of Crime, “Victims of Crime Act Victim Compensation Grant Program,” Federal Register 66, no. 95, Sec. IV(1)(b), May 16, 2001, but do not prohibit states from providing compensation to victims of nonviolent crimes or those who witness a violent crime. 8In some states, including Illinois and New York, witnesses to violence can be considered eligible as well. This is especially important in incidents of Intimate Partner Violence, where children may cope with emotional trauma and require mental health services in the aftermath, or in incidents of community gun violence, where children may witness such acts while walking to school or playing in a park. Additionally, the basis for compensation denials can range from state to state: For example, in FY 2019, nearly 80 percent of the compensation denials issued in Idaho were due to ineligible crimes.Office for Victims of Crime, “Idaho FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019,” October 8, 2019, 

In addition, the federal guidelines allow states to impose more restrictive criteria, which has resulted in wide variation in claim eligibility from state to state.9In Washington, DC—which has the highest rate of firearm homicide of all states in the United States—nearly all claims are approved. In Kentucky, 73 percent of claims were denied in FY 2019. Denials can be issued for something as simple as incorrect paperwork and yet have a complex impact on those denied compensation. Office for Victims of Crime, “District of Columbia FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019,” November 15, 2019,; Office for Victims of Crime, “Kentucky FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019,” October 24, 2019, For example, some states have chosen to prohibit individuals convicted of certain crimes at the state level, even if the crime was committed years earlier. As illustrated in Dion’s story, such policies have caused families to be denied compensation if their loved one had a prior conviction. This disproportionately affects Black people, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.10Elizabeth Hinton, LeShae Henderson, and Cindy Reed, “An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System,” Vera Institute of Justice, May 2018, In Florida, in 2015 and 2016, Black people made up 30 percent of applicants for victim compensation, but were 61 percent of the applicants who were denied due to a criminal record.11Alysia Santo, “The Victims Who Don’t Count,” Marshall Project, September 13, 2018,

And while federal law requires that a crime victim compensation program “promotes victim cooperation with the reasonable requests of law enforcement authorities,”12 34 USC § 20102(b)(2). some states have interpreted that to mean a victim is required to report the crime to law enforcement. Other states, however, have acknowledged that—for a variety of reasons, including fear of retaliation, mistrust in law enforcement, the age of a victim, or the dynamics of an intimate partner relationship—victims may choose not to report the crime to law enforcement. Several states have opted to compensate survivors who did not report the crime to law enforcement or who reported it to a government agency instead of law enforcement.13For example, under Georgia law, the only explicit requirement related to law enforcement is proof that a victim reported the crime to law enforcement within 72 hours, or if the crime was reported later, that the victim provide an explanation for the delay in reporting. O.C.G.A. 17-15-8(a)(3). Notably, Georgia reported that none of the compensation applications in FY 2019 were denied for failure to report to law enforcement. Office for Victims of Crime, “Georgia FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019,” November 18, 2019, In FY 2019, 46 percent of denied applications in Georgia were due to a failure to cooperate with law enforcement. Under Georgia’s victim compensation law, the victim compensation board has discretion to determine whether a victim cooperated with law enforcement or not.14O.C.G.A. 17-15-8(a)(4). See also footnote 16.


“Contributory misconduct,” a finding that a survivor played a role in their own victimization, accounted for 3,513 denials in FY 2019, across all states.

In addition, compensation may be denied if the victim’s actions played a role in their death or injury or if the compensation would “unjustly enrich” the offender. For example, if law enforcement or victim compensation administrators believe the claimant was engaged in illegal activity at the time they were victimized, they could be denied. And if an offender lives with a victim and the compensation could be used to substantially support the offender, the claim could be denied. This “contributory misconduct” accounted for 3,513 denials—less than one percent of all denials— in FY 2019, across all states.15See Appendix: 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey. The circumstances surrounding what constitutes contributory misconduct are not always clear-cut, and in some states the misconduct does not even have to be causally related to the victimization. In Mississippi, a victim can be denied compensation if the victim “engaged in conduct unrelated to the crime upon which the claim for compensation is based that either was (i) a felony, or (ii) a delinquent act which, if committed by an adult, would constitute a felony.”16MS Code § 99-41-17(1)(k). By this standard, someone engaged in a brawl leading up to their gun assault victimization, or who happened to be in possession of illegal drugs at the time of their gun homicide, could be deemed ineligible due to contributory misconduct. In either case, state laws should better account for the nuanced contexts of gun crime victimization. 


The federal statute is silent on a timeline for reporting a crime, filing for compensation (or an appeal), or reimbursing victims. This also has resulted in wide variation at the state level with states adopting time frames for reporting a crime as short as 72 hours, or for filing a request at one year. Further, reimbursements take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. In FY 2019, nearly 38 percent of California’s victim compensation denials were due to a failure to report to police.17Office for Victims of Crime, “California FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019,” October 24, 2019, See also Appendix: 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey. States should ensure that victim compensation administrators are adequately staffed to ensure that claims are processed in a timely manner. 

Costs Covered

Federal law mandates that expenses related to medical care, lost wages, mental health counseling, and funeral expenses be eligible for reimbursement under victim compensation programs. Beyond mandated expenses, other allowable expenses may include property damage and loss,18Federal VOCA guidelines permit payment of replacement costs for clothing and bedding held as evidence and replacement or repair of windows and locks. See Final Guidelines Section IV.B.2(b)(ii)4&5, travel and transport to secure bodies of the deceased, temporary lodging, building modification to accommodate disabilities, reimbursement for items held as evidence such as clothing or bedding, window and lock repair or replacement, crime scene cleanup, attorneys’ fees, dependent care, financial counseling, pain and suffering, or annuities.

At the state level, survivors of homicide rightfully receive the majority of funeral expenses paid by compensation programs, but receive less mental health support than other victim categories.19See Appendix: 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey. A total of $52,635,431 was allocated for funeral expenses for all homicide applications nationwide in FY 2019.20See Appendix: 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey. Illinois ranked highest in their funerary payout for homicides in FY 2019, paying an average of $6,097 per homicide claim.21 Office for Victims of Crime, “Illinois FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 1, 2018–September 30, 2019,” October 16, 2019, See also 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey. The majority of mental health reimbursements are paid to assault survivors. In FY 2019, 74.2 percent of all medical expenses and 48.9 percent of mental health expense payouts were paid to assault survivors.22See 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey.

Last Payer Requirement

Victim compensation funds are considered a payer of last resort, so families must first use other sources, including health and life insurance, before being eligible for reimbursement.23Office for Victims of Crime, “Victims of Crime Act Victim Compensation Grant Program,” Federal Register 66, no. 95, Sec. IV(C)(2), May 16, 2001, Some states have expanded this requirement to include collateral sources, such as crowdfunded donations. In such cases, a family who received donations through a GoFundMe campaign to pay for upfront funeral expenses could be denied reimbursement for that specific expense. Furthermore, many families do not have the resources to fund costs upfront and thus be eligible for later reimbursement, which in itself presents a barrier. 

How can we fix victim compensation?

“I’m going to share my story and be a voice for the voiceless.”

In the time since Dion received the victim compensation denial letter for his father’s funeral costs, he has poured his heart into victim support and advocacy for VOCA victim compensation reform: “I’m going to share my story and be a voice for the voiceless.”1Interview with Dion Green by Melissa Paquette And he’s been effective: In 2021, the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 36, a bill to expand victims’ access to compensation.2Ohio Senate Bill 36, 

The new law expands compensation for counseling to family members of victims, expands the definition of a victim to include a family member who was a witness to a crime, and removes restrictions based on past criminal convictions.  The law goes into effect March 2022. 

There are several ways to improve the administration of, and access to, victim compensation. At the urging of advocates, lawmakers and fund administrators at the federal and state levels have taken steps to ensure that survivors and families can easily and quickly obtain the financial support they need.

Advocacy groups worked at the federal level to fix VOCA victim compensation restrictions, increase eligibility, and grow the overall pool of money available to survivors.24National Association of Attorneys General, “Letter to Congress Regarding the Crime Victims Fund,” August 24, 2020,; Association of Prosecuting Attorneys et al., “Letter to Congress Regarding Victims of Crime Act Grants,” October 19, 2020, Advocates also proposed increasing the federal contribution to states in order to (1) counter decreasing state contributions to victims’ compensation funds, and (2) decrease states’ reliance on traditional prosecutions to resource funding for victims.25National Association of Attorneys General, “Letter to Congress”; Association of Prosecuting Attorneys et al., “Letter to Congress.” Congress members introduced and passed the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 (VOCA Fix Act), which amended the VOCA statute to incorporate these fixes.26117th Congress (2021–2022), H.R.1652: VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021, This law increases federal contributions to states from 60 percent to 75 percent, allows deferred prosecution agreement and nonprosecution agreement funds to be deposited into the Crime Victims Fund, and requires that cooperation with law enforcement be determined with consideration for “a victim’s age, physical condition, psychological state, cultural or linguistic barriers, or any other health or safety concern that jeopardizes the victim’s wellbeing.”  President Biden signed the VOCA Fix Act into law on July 22, 2021.

At the state level, solutions to the challenges that gun violence survivors, like Dion, face in receiving victim compensation exist through both improved administration and legislative advocacy. States must continue to dedicate robust state funds to supplement the federal contributions to their victim compensation programs. Under the federal statutory formula, states receive increased federal aid when they spend increased state resources on victim compensation.2734 USC § 20102(a)(2). As states consider criminal justice reforms, they can no longer rely on traditional prosecutions to generate fines and fees to resource state contributions to victim compensation. States must diversify their contributions to ensure survivors have the resources they need.

Bureaucratic hurdles at the state level can be improved through administrative fixes like increased staffing to process claims in a timely manner, improved training for state administrators, a streamlined application process, and extended periods for those seeking to appeal a denial. Because the application process for these funds can be complicated for survivors, substantial technical assistance for applicants could be piloted at the state level, and could increase the overall number of approved applications for compensation. compensation.28Twenty-six percent of applications in FY 2019 were denied due to incomplete information. See Appendix: 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey. Improving information flow to survivors could also help spread the word that victim compensation even exists. Resources on how to apply could be provided at various points beyond law enforcement interaction, including in health care settings and community-based violence intervention programs. Since federal VOCA compensation funding allocations are based on the state’s previous year’s reimbursements, not only would increasing the flow of victim compensation funds benefit the lives of the survivors, but it would also help ensure that the state continues to receive adequate federal funding in years to come.

Far too many gun violence survivors are left without compensation that could radically affect their lives in the aftermath of traumatic victimization and/or a loved one being taken from them. Expanding eligibility, easing last payer requirements, and increasing compensation caps could be addressed through state-level legislation. Other legislative fixes include increasing caps on total reimbursement and allocating more federal funding for states to administer to victims. 

Case Study

Illinois Signed Criminal Justice Reform Bill into Law, 2021

In February 2021, Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker signed sweeping criminal justice legislation into law. Included among the criminal justice reforms, which ranged from improved police transparency, use of force restrictions, and the elimination of cash bail, is a reform to the state’s administration of victim compensation. Under the new law,1 Illinois HB 3653: Criminal Justice Omnibus Bill, signed into law as IL Public Act 101–0652, February 22, 2021, See also The Civic Federation, “Summary of Provisions in Illinois House Bill 3653: Criminal Justice Omnibus Bill,” February 15, 2021,

  • Reimbursement caps for:
    • Transport of a deceased victim are increased from $7,500 to $10,000;
    • Funeral expenses are increased from $7,500 to $10,000; and
    • Loss of earnings or support are increased from $1,250 to $2,400 per month. 
  • Language was added to affirm that a victim’s criminal history does not automatically prohibit them from accessing compensation.
  • Compensation awards must be determined within 28 days.
  • The application filing period increased from two years to five years.
  • Language was removed that would prohibit eligibility based on the contributory misconduct or provocation by the victim.2The Illinois Criminal Justice Omnibus Bill modified the compensation eligibility requirements. 740 ILCS 45/6.1 (e). The Bill did not modify statutory language around compensation amounts. 740 ILCS 45/10.1(d). In Illinois, administrators may still consider contributory misconduct when determining award amounts, award reductions, or award denials. However, importantly, “A denial or reduction shall not automatically bar the survivors of homicide victims from receiving compensation for counseling, crime scene cleanup, relocation, funeral or burial costs, and loss of support if the survivor’s actions have not initiated, provoked, or aggravated the suspect into initiating the qualifying crime.” 740 ILCS 45/10.1(d).

In Illinois, removing barriers to victim compensation funds, increasing reimbursement caps, and expediting eligibility notifications are considered criminal justice issues that must be considered alongside other systems-based reforms. Other states should follow their lead.


In the aftermath of gun violence, survivors and families require physical, emotional, and financial support. Access to this support is complicated by debilitating trauma, limited resources, and in the case of victim compensation, administrative obstacles and restrictions. Survivors and victim advocates have been working for years to incorporate federal and state fixes to victim compensation statutes and administration. As federal fixes to victim compensation funding are under way, states must also take action to increase victims’ awareness of compensation, ease the application process, and adequately fund the needs of gun violence survivors. As Illinois’ Criminal Justice Reform Bill demonstrates, these reforms are possible—and they are needed. The struggle to cope with short- and long-term effects of a shooting or threat with a gun should not be exacerbated by a fight to navigate and receive victim compensation. 

Victim compensation funding data by state

STATEAverage Length of Time to Process Application for Claim Eligibility in FY 2019Total Applications Denied/Closed (Not Approved) in FY 2019% Application Denied Due to Incomplete Information in FY 2019Average Amount Paid for Funeral/Burial for Homicide Applications in FY 2019Avg. Amount Paid for All Applications in FY 2019Mental Health Support Paid for Assault Applications as a Percentage of All Annual Mental Health Support Paid in FY 2019
District of Columbia421376.9%$3,893$1,44222.1%
New Hampshire476266.1%$1,140$1,07024.7%
New Jersey422,17081.7%$3,955$3,11723.0%
New Mexico811,11251.8%$2,719$1,67537.2%
New York1033,85932.0%$3,554$2,02920.3%
North Carolina708983.9%$4,099$2,44538.9%
North Dakota18882.2%$2,850$8195.9%
Rhode Island134035.4%$5,066$1,83825.3%
South Carolina601691.7%$4,432$1,43234.3%
South Dakota91270.0%$2,885$2,09121.0%
West Virginia1802732.2%$3,689$1,67643.2%

Data is based on each state’s FY 2019 Victim Compensation Formula Grant Program Annual Performance Measures Report, October 01, 2018 – September 30, 2019. See Appendix: 2019 Annual Report VOCA Compensation Survey for additional data and links to FY 2019 state reports.

Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.

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