Thursday, August 16, 2007
Fund finalizes compensation for families
Administrators expect to pay more than $7.6 million to families and survivors of the tragedy.
HOKIE SPIRIT MEMORIAL FUND
- Families of students and faculty killed in the shootings will have a choice of receiving $180,000 or dividing that amount between a cash payment and a scholarship in the name of their loved one. Families are also eligible for reimbursement of psychological health/psychiatric counseling expenses through the Virginia Criminal Injuries Compensation fund. Wounded victims hospitalized for more than 10 days and nights are eligible for a $90,000 payment plus tuition for the remainder of their current degree program at Virginia Tech.
- Those hospitalized for three to nine days and nights because of physical injuries qualify for $40,000, plus tuition.
- Victims who suffered less serious physical injuries, as well as those who were in Norris Hall classrooms 204, 205, 206, 207 and 211 at the time of the shootings, are eligible for free tuition or a $10,000 cash payment.
- Psychologically injured students who were enrolled on April 16 are eligible for free counseling from the Cook Counseling Center.
- Aug. 15 to Sept. 15: Claim forms must be completed and submitted.
- Sept. 15 to Oct. 31: All claims will be reviewed and final payments rendered. Payments will be issued immediately after the rendering of final payment determinations.
- Dec. 31: Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund will close for donations and its remaining funds will be transferred into the Hokie Spirit Scholarship Fund.
- Post-Dec. 31: The Virginia Tech Foundation will conduct a full audit of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and the Hokie Spirit Scholarship Fund.
The Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund was established shortly after April 16 and, in the months since, donors have contributed more than $7.6 million across 34 funds, including 32 named funds, one for each victim; a general scholarship fund; and a fund for the broad support of the university community and the families of those involved.
- Total contributions as of Monday : $7,684,513
- Victim and family expenses already paid: $213,403
- Estimated claims for deceased victims: $5,760,000
- Estimated claims for all others: $2,120,000
- Total estimated distributions: $7,880,000*
- *The fund will collect donations until the end of the year, and administrators expect these donations to make up the difference between current contributions and estimated distributions.
With the final distribution plan for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund complete, families of the Virginia Tech shooting victims began Wednesday to weigh the compensation options before them.
Under the plan, fund administrators expect to pay more than $7.6 million to families and survivors. In contrast to a proposal drafted in mid-July, the "final protocol" offers cash payments ranging from $10,000 to $180,000. In addition, victims who were the most seriously injured during the shootings will receive both compensation payments and free tuition at Tech.
Kenneth Feinberg, the Washington, D.C., lawyer appointed to administer the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, said changes to the distribution plan reflect some of the concerns voiced by victims' families in recent weeks.
"It's always risky to talk about fairness and justice after a tragedy like the April shootings," Feinberg said. "So I'm not sure families are able, or are expected, to talk about those in terms of what's just and fair after losing a loved one, but I do think the program will be effective in at least distributing and providing some degree of financial help."
Bryan Cloyd of Blacksburg, father of victim Austin Cloyd, expressed gratitude to Feinberg and the thousands of donors who contributed to the fund.
"No amount of money can replace a child, but of course that's not the point," Cloyd wrote in an e-mail. "The caring and compassion of so many Hokies has given us strength and hope.
"Mr. Feinberg," he added, "listened carefully to each family and came up with a plan that was both objective and flexible with respect to each family's unique needs."
Families of students and faculty killed in the shootings will have a choice of receiving a $180,000 payment or dividing that amount between a cash payment and a scholarship in the name of their loved one.
Wounded victims hospitalized for more than three days will receive either $40,000 or $90,000, depending on the length of their hospital stay, plus free tuition at Tech. And victims who suffered less serious physical injuries, as well as those who were in Norris Hall classrooms 204, 205, 206, 207 and 211 at the time of the shootings, are eligible for free tuition or a $10,000 cash payment.
The protocol calls for reimbursements previously paid to families to be deducted from the amount they are ultimately given.
According to the plan's timeline, victims' families and survivors have until Sept. 15 to file claim forms for compensation, and all claims will be reviewed and final payments tallied between Sept. 15 and Oct. 31.
Elizabeth Hilscher, the mother of Emily, an aspiring veterinarian from Woodville who was one of the first people fatally shot on April 16, said her family will sit down together shortly and consider how best to use the funds.
"We really haven't discussed what would occur at this point," Hilscher said. "We won't see the money until after September, so we have a few weeks to sit and ponder what we're going to do."
Holly Adams-Sherman, mother of victim Leslie Sherman, said she believes families such as the Hilschers should have more than just a few weeks to decide.
"I have a problem with that deadline," Adams-Sherman said of the Sept. 15 date by which all claims must be received. "That's a little soon. ... Families may be able to file claims within the next few weeks, but there's so much being thrown at them right now, I think they ought to give them a little more time."
In spite of her concerns, the Springfield, Va., resident said she and her husband, Tony Sherman, plan to put their money toward two scholarships in their daughter's name: one, an endowed scholarship at Tech, and the other, a memorial scholarship at West Springfield High School.
The Cloyds have a similar plan.
"For every decision we've made since April 16, our guiding principle has been to make Austin proud of us," Bryan Cloyd wrote. "Although we are still working out the details, we can confirm that there will be an Austin Michelle Cloyd Honors Scholarship at Virginia Tech to be administered by the Honors Program."
For Roger O'Dell, whose son Derek was injured in the shootings, the decision seemed pretty clear.
Derek O'Dell was shot in the arm and treated and released from the hospital the day of the shooting.
According to the protocol, he is eligible for either free tuition for the remaining two years he's at Tech, or $10,000.
Given the cost of tuition, Roger O'Dell said the family would likely opt for tuition and fees.
"It seems very reasonable as far as we're concerned," O'Dell said.
Ray Smoot, chief operating officer and secretary-treasurer of the Virginia Tech Foundation, praised Feinberg's efforts to involve families in discussions about the fund and, like O'Dell, called the plan "reasonable."
The foundation administered the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund prior to Feinberg's involvement.
"He recognized the necessity to respond promptly to those that the fund would help, and I think he performed a great service to help us all along to a resolution," Smoot said. "I think the final plan, which I have reviewed, represents a reasonable and imperfect result to an imperfect situation."
Staff writers Albert Raboteau and Pamela J. Podger and The Associated Press contributed to this report.