‘Can you tell me more about Crime Victims’ Compensation?’

By Jalayne Robinson, LMSW
TDCAA Victim Services Director

Early in my career I really cherished the Crime Victims’ Compensation (CVC) program.

It’s a fund administered by the Office of the Attorney General that reimburses crime victims and their immediate families for some of the financial costs of crime. Seeing how CVC can make a difference in a crime victim’s life made me a true believer in the program.

Now, as I assist other victim assistance coordinators (VACs) across Texas, I enjoy teaching people about the program, especially that without VACs spreading the word about CVC to our crime victims, many would never apply.

In my position, I am often asked, “Can you tell me more about the Crime Victims’ Compensation program? I really don’t understand how it works.” In this article, I hope to answer the most common questions I get about it.

The program was created by the Texas Legislature in 1979. It is funded by criminal court costs, fees, and fines paid by convicted offenders, and CVC then reimburses crime victims and their families for expenses of up to $50,000. Each of the awards are limited in the amount that can be reimbursed, and property crimes are not covered. CVC is a “payor of last resort,” meaning it will pay for certain crime-related expenses not covered by insurance or other sources. These include funeral and burial, mental health care, loss of wages, loss of support, child care, medical care, rent and relocation, crime scene clean-up, travel expenses, and evidence replacement.

For example, a victim may have medical expenses because of a crime, and his health insurance covers some medical bills but not all. The crime victim can apply for CVC and once approved, the program could reimburse for any out-of-pocket medical expenses, such as co-pays or deductibles. Many crime victims have high medical insurance deductibles or incur numerous co-pays during their recovery, which can add up.

When I worked in a prosecutor’s office (23 years in the Wood County Criminal DA’s office), here’s how I would introduce crime victims to CVC. After grand jury, I would request a list of the indictments, and from those, I would identify those cases that included a victim. As I reviewed each criminal case and read offense reports to get ready to send out a victim services packet, in the back of my mind I was asking, “How could the CVC program help this crime victim?” Look for crimes or attempted crimes that caused mental or physical injury or death, such as assault, child abuse, child sexual assault, DWI, elder abuse, family violence, failure to stop and render aid, homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, and stalking. (Note that identity theft and property crimes are not covered by CVC.) My goal was to personally talk with each crime victim about the program. One by one I would call people on the telephone and introduce myself as their VAC from the DA’s office. I would tell victims that in the next week or so, they would receive a packet from our office that contained information about filing for the CVC program, along with a Victim Impact Statement form and other pertinent information about their case.

At that point, I would begin a conversation about any out-of-pocket expenses they may have incurred because of the crime or that could possibly come up in the future. I kept a quick reference chart next to my phone so I could scan to see how the program might be suitable for each individual (here’s the link to that reference chart, which you can download yourself: www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/sites/default/files/files/divisions/crime-victims/CVC_QuickReferenceGuide.pdf). I told them how the program works and what benefits might be helpful to them. Of course, I never promised any reimbursement or payment, noting that all reimbursement decisions are made by the Office of the Attorney General, but my job was to offer assistance in helping the crime victim apply.

CVC online portal

In other CVC news, in September 2018, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) announced its new online portal. The process for crime victims’ and VACs to submit applications online, upload crime related bills, and follow each step of the claim process is now even easier. Here is a link to the website: www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/crime-victims/crime-victims-compensation-program/apply-crime-victims-compensation.

Also in 2018, the CVC Program unveiled its new online CVMS Web Portal for access by advocates, law enforcement, medical professionals, and qualifying nonprofits. An application process through the OAG can establish your office with the online portal. Here is what the web portal could do for VACs and law enforcement:
• prepare applications on behalf of victims that can be completed by the victims when they register;
• submit a crime report while preparing an application;
• submit bills for hospitals, physicians, prescriptions, funerals, childcare, and mental health care while preparing an application;
• view the status of applications;
• view the status of bills; and
• easily track the status of one or more applications and associated bills.

If your office does not have already have account and you would like access to the CVMS web portal, have someone in your office complete a New Organization application at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/crime-victims/information-victim-services-professionals/victim-services-professionals-crime-victims-compensation-portal-access/new-organization-application. Once your organization has been approved, individual users in an office can complete a new user application here: www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/crime-victims/information-victim-services-professionals/victim-services-professionals-crime-victims-compensation-portal-access/new-service-professional-access-request

Crime Victim Services Annual Report

Every year, I enjoy reading the Office of the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Services Annual Report. I learn something new every time. For instance, the 2018 report announces that CVC received 34,706 applications, and the program awarded $67.4 million to crime victims. Isn’t that incredible? Also included in the annual report is a Crime Victims’ Compensation Activity Summary by county, which includes information on how many CVC applications were received and approved, how many applications were denied, and total amounts paid out on behalf of victims, all listed by county. It is interesting to look up your county and see how many crime victims were assisted in the previous year. This information and other data are included in their report, which is here: www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/sites/default/files/files/divisions/crime-victims/Crime%20Victim%20Services%20-%20Annual%20Report%202018.pdf.

As a VAC, personally talking with crime victims about what benefits are available and providing application assistance to help them apply could make a huge difference in their lives. We as VACs should continually ask ourselves “In my position, how can I best assist our crime victims?” One of the first and best places to start is with the Crime Victims’ Compensation program.

Victim Impact Statement revision

This summer I will serve on the VIS Revision Committee, which will meet several times to review the format of the VIS form, VIS Quarterly Activity Report, It’s Your Voice brochure, and VIS Recommended Processing Procedure. The committee is interested in making these documents user-friendly for victims as well as criminal justice professionals. So if you have wished for revisions to these documents and brochures, let me know and I will share those suggestions with our committee. Please email your thoughts, ideas, or suggestions to me at [email protected] .com

Mark your calendars

In April, the TDCAA Key Personnel–Victim Services Board met to plan curricula for TDCAA’s Annual Criminal & Civil Law Update (in Corpus Christi September 18–20) and the Key Personnel & Victim Assistance Coordinator Seminar (in San Marcos November 6–8). Many thanks to each of you for your time, effort, and dedicated service to the KP-VS Board. There were so many great ideas, and we are looking forward to some fabulous workshops!

To see what we have planned, please mark your calendars for TDCAA’s upcoming seminars. For more information, visit our website at www.tdcaa.com/training.

In-office VAC visits

TDCAA’s Victim Services project offers in-office support to prosecutors’ victim services programs. We at TDCAA realize the majority of VACs are the only people in their offices responsible for developing victim services programs and compiling information to send to crime victims (as required by Chapter 56 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). We also recognize VACs may not have anyone locally to turn to for advice and at times could use assistance or moral support. This project is especially helpful to new VACs.

My recent travels have taken me to Tyler, Gregg, Jasper, and Nueces Counties. If your office would like to schedule a victim services visit, please email me at [email protected] I am available for inquiries, support, in-office consultations, group presentations or to train brand new VACs in your office.