Senate passes victims compensation reforms after Oregon District survivors denied aid

Dion Green testifies before the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a bill revising Ohio's victims compensation program. Green's father was killed in the Oregon District mass shooting and his family was denied state aid because of a 2011 drug conviction.
Dion Green testifies before the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a bill revising Ohio's victims compensation program. Green's father was killed in the Oregon District mass shooting and his family was denied state aid because of a 2011 drug conviction.

Credit: Josh Sweigart

Credit: Josh Sweigart

The Ohio Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to reduce barriers to crime victims receiving aid from Ohio’s victims compensation program after an emotional appeal from a survivor of the Oregon District mass shooting.

Dion Green told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning that he was denied help burying his father Derrick Fudge — who was killed in the shooting — because Fudge had a 2011 felony drug conviction. Program rules deny aid to anyone with a felony conviction in the previous 10 years.

ExploreOregon District shooting survivors, family denied state aid for crime victims

“Through all the pain I endured, I had to get a letter from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office telling me my dad does not qualify for help,” Green said. “It just felt like a kick in the face.”

A Dayton Daily News investigation this year found Ohio’s victims compensation program has some of the strictest rules in the country and routinely denies more claims than it approves. Victims can be denied aid for being suspected of a crime even if they weren’t charged or convicted.

Of the 19 denied claims from the Oregon District shooting, four were because of a felony record, the newspaper found.

Another Oregon District survivor was denied help because she had drugs in her system when she was taken to the hospital to treat a gunshot wound; she says it was prescription Adderall.

Senate Bill 369 would reduce the disqualification period for a prior conviction from 10 years to five, allow someone to get help if they were in possession of drugs when they were victimized, and expand compensation to family members of victims who require counseling.

Bill sponsor Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said she has advocated such reforms for years but the Dayton Daily News reports that victims of the mass shooting were denied aid gave it new momentum.

“Senate Bill 369 will go a long way toward helping victims of crime recover from severe trauma,” Lehner said. “No one should be rejected assistance for reasons that are no fault of their own or because of events that occurred years ago.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost — whose office administers the program — did not respond to a request for comment on the bill. Lehner said Yost is “generally supportive” of it but wants some modifications she is hoping can be made when the bill goes before the Ohio House.

The victims compensation program is funded largely through drivers license reinstatement fees and court costs paid by people accused of crimes. It compensates victims of violent crimes to cover things such as funeral costs, medical bills and counseling.

ExploreStrict rules in Ohio program deny payouts to thousands of victims

“In my experience the majority of people who are being denied are people who have less or no money to pay for burial or counseling,” said Green, who started a foundation in his father’s name to help fellow crime victims.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill in the Senate hearing. Others who spoke in support included Stephen Massey, director of CitiLookout Trauma Recovery Center in Springfield.

“In just the past few weeks, I have had to tell two men who survived gunshots to the head and back that the state of Ohio would not provide them with victim compensation support, simply because they had felonies four and six years ago,” he said. “The look on both men’s faces told me they understood the denial as evidence that Ohio does not care about them, their lives or their safety.”

Other proponents talked about parents who couldn’t get help burying their children, and sexual assault survivors denied aid because of their actions the night they were assaulted. They noted that Black Ohioans are disproportionally likely to be victims of crime, but are also disproportionally likely to be denied help.

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“Crime victims often experience mental health challenges, substance abuse, housing instability, disruption in employment, re-victimization and contact with the justice system,” said Brenda Glass, executive director of a trauma center in Cleveland. “By removing barriers to their healing journey, we can help crime victims avoid many of these challenges.”

Shakyra Diaz, Ohio Director of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, said Ohio is the only state that denies compensation to victims merely accused of past crimes, and is one of five states that denies aid based on a past conviction.

“These policies entrench biased perceptions of survivors as ‘worthy’ or ‘unworthy’; ‘good victims’ or ‘bad victims’ into Ohio statute,” she said.

The Ohio Senate took up reforms of Ohio’s victims compensation fund after the Dayton Daily News revealed that survivors of the Oregon District mass shooting were denied aid. Your subscription makes this coverage possible.

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