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Navigating the VOCA Funding Process

The process to access VOCA funds can feel convoluted. However, victims of crimes are entitled to funding and assistance. Victim service organizations are leading the charge in advocating for changes to laws around VOCA funds. Many of these organizations are survivor-led and have firsthand knowledge of the process. They assist survivors with applying for funds and appealing denials. They also serve as critical support to survivors of gun violence when VOCA funds are delayed, inaccessible, or insufficient.

We spoke with six survivors who lead or work at 501c3 organizations supporting survivors of gun violence. These survivors discussed the barriers they encountered while accessing VOCA funds. They also shared how they advocate for expanded access to VOCA funds and how they support crime victims in their communities.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Cathy Taylor, Founder of Journey4ward

After the tragic loss of my son Corey to gun violence in 2013, I could not find support services and programs in my community to support crime survivors. I founded Journey4ward to help support other crime victims like me. Although the process was difficult, I was fortunately able to receive VOCA funding for my organization. The VOCA grant process can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. This is especially true for small organizations, which are not always familiar with the grant writing process. 

The VOCA process can also be challenging for victims directly following a traumatic event. Victims get overwhelmed, so they aren’t always equipped to apply. When victims apply, it can take months to get reimbursed, even though the need for financial assistance can be immediate. Journey4ward helps crime victims fill out the application. We also share with them other reimbursements they may not be aware of while their application is being processed. We offer free counseling services to victims and their families. We don’t require reimbursement from the crime victims funding.

In Austin, Texas, I advocated on behalf of House Bill 250 and the Crime Victims Compensation program. This bill allowed non-blood-related family members to access compensation. These include same-sex partners, grandparents, and those who may live in the same home but are not blood-related. This bill also allowed victims to obtain financial support to relocate to a safer place if needed.

  • Learn more about Cathy Taylor and Journey4ward

    Cathy Taylor is from Midlothian, Texas, and is the founder of Journey4ward. She is married and has three children, Brandon, Corey, and Breanna, and five grandchildren. She founded Journey4ward to help support other crime survivors like herself because she felt victims should not have to go through so many barriers to get the support they deserve and should have easier access to those services that were available. Cathy continues to advocate for easier access to support services for victims and against gun violence, as well as gun reform. Cathy often shares her story of losing her son to gun violence with other survivors as well as with our legislators and community leaders so that maybe one day, mothers and families will not have to suffer the pain of gun violence and will have better access to the support services that are needed.

    The mission of Journey4ward is to serve victims of violence and at-risk youth. Journey4ward responds to the emotional needs of victims of crime and supports victim’s families through the cycle of grief that comes with losing a loved one to violence. Journey4ward is a resource to victims and families, helping them to heal from trauma by providing free services that include traumatic grief counseling, judicial support services, community education, and therapeutic activities that are peer-based and ongoing. Journey4ward promotes prosocial youth activities for at-risk youth, including counseling programs, curriculums about gun violence prevention, and teaching principles that create non-violence, leadership, and other skills that will engage youth to become proactive in the fight against gun violence, ultimately interrupting the gun violence in our communities. Journey4ward advocates for sustaining a community culture of nonviolence and building community partnerships to support victims and youth.

Danielle Leverett-Gallaspy, Founder of Our 3 Memorial Foundation, Inc.

In 2019, my niece and her two children were killed in a domestic violence incident using a firearm. In the wake of their deaths, I channeled my grief into action to found the Our 3 Memorial Foundation, Inc

We provide a variety of advocacy services, including VOCA assistance. Our credentialed advocate helps survivors to fill out and submit the required forms. With this help, many of our survivors had an easier time completing the application process.

Access to funds through these applications is frequently delayed, but in our experience, it isn’t often denied. However, only two of our survivors who have applied for assistance have received funds. Both of them received the funds several months after applying. In both of those instances, the funds requested did not meet the needs of the victim.

I have seen some applications be denied. Some victims who apply are denied for not applying within the time limit—which can be difficult in the wake of a traumatic event. Some do not provide all the requested information, so their applications are denied because they didn’t “cooperate fully.” 

These reasons for denial must be considered from the perspective of an individual who has just suffered intimate partner violence or another traumatic event. We are helping people who are often scared or may be trying to protect their location and personal information to stay safe. The immediacy of their needs—to remove themselves from their situations, to have access to resources to do so and not return to their abusers, to safely stay somewhere unknown to the perpetrator—should be considered during the application process. Their lives are at risk.  We know this all too well, which is why I created my organization to step in to support these individuals. 

  • Learn more about Danielle Leverett-Gallaspy and Our 3 Memorial Foundation, Inc.

    Danielle Leverett-Gallaspy is a certified psychometrist, credentialed advocate, and former educator from Brandon, MS, and she has dedicated over 15 years to serving her community. 

    Our 3 Memorial Foundation leads the charge in raising awareness about the pervasive impact of domestic abuse, particularly among women of color, who are often the least likely to seek help. As the organization’s “boots on the ground,” Danielle advocates for victims’ rights, educates the community, and provides crucial support to those affected by violence. Her ultimate goal is to inspire change and offer hope to survivors of domestic violence. 

    Our 3 Memorial Foundation strives to create change in the fight against domestic violence by impacting individual behaviors and relationships through community engagement, advocacy, and education. In addition to providing advocacy services, the organization currently runs three programs: teen dating violence awareness, housing navigation, and provision of personal care/essentials.

Dion Green, Founder and CEO of FUDGE

The Flourishing Under Distress Given Encouragement (FUDGE) Foundation supports individuals on their journey of grief and healing from traumatic events. We do this through the delivery of support services and advocacy at both a local and national level.

I started the FUDGE Foundation after my father, Derrick Fudge, was killed in 2019 in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. After his death, I applied for both victim assistance and victim compensation funds. However, this funding was denied due to my father’s background. He had a clean record for nine years, but to be eligible for VOCA funds in Ohio, you had to have at least 10 years clean.

The process of applying for assistance is never easy. The forms ask intrusive questions about your life and income. Who is really in the right mind to fill out these forms amid the tragic event of a loved one? In my case, the process was quick, and I received a denial letter before my father was even buried in the ground. The letter asked if I wanted to appeal the decision that was given, based on the information provided. However, I was not granted any funds for my father during the process.

Now, I work with families in the wake of a crime to help with making funeral arrangements. I also try to share the resources that are available to them through support groups or individual counseling. I also provide a stipend to help out with expenses. Many of these forms of support are directly offered through the FUDGE Foundation.

I also advocate to remove the barriers that stop most people from being eligible for compensation. In 2021, Congress revised the VOCA bill to lift barriers and allow more people to access those funds. I am pushing to make compensation retroactive. This would allow people who were denied in the last three years to go back and reapply for compensation. 

  • Learn more about Dion Green and FUDGE

    Dion Green has his MBA from Keller’s Graduate School in Business Administration with a minor in Entrepreneurship, and a Bachelor of Science from DeVry University in Business Administration. Mr. Green is a Certified Peer Support Specialist with the State of Ohio.

    Mr. Green is a survivor, overcoming many personal obstacles and showing others how they can survive too. He is an advocate on gun violence, mental health, and gun legislation which was inspired by the mass shooting that occurred in Dayton, Ohio in August of 2019, which claimed his father’s life and many other victims. Mr. Green speaks around the country and in the communities that have been impacted by gun violence. In addition to his Foundation, Gun Legislation Advocacy service, and Gun Rally participation, he serves on the Board of Felons with a Future, Upturn Ohio, and numerous other community initiatives and support networks across the country.

    Mr. Green is a published author of a memoir, Untitled Act of God/Act of Man sharing his tragedies and demonstrating a sense of resilience through his journey by forgiving and giving back to his community.

    Additionally, Mr. Green was a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Legacy Award presented by the Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom in April 2022, and in March 2024, the FUDGE Foundation received the “Agency of the Year” award from the National Association of Social Work.

Keycha Gallon, CEO of Keyz 2 the Future

I am the CEO of Keyz 2 the Future. Our organization supports Black and brown children in California’s Greater Bay Area. We are working toward a world where children impacted by trauma can heal, grow, and thrive.

As a survivor, I know firsthand that a sudden death causes a hardship that is hard to recover from. That’s why I advocate for victims of crimes to know and understand the resources they are entitled to access.

Keyz 2 the Future helps people to complete paperwork for victim compensation. We also advocate for their rights to the funding by writing letters to government officials.

The VOCA funding application process can be long and drawn out. It does not truly accommodate victims, especially in the immediate aftermath of trauma. We worked with one person to submit an application; it’s been over a year, and their application is still pending.

  • Learn more about Keycha Gallon and Keyz 2 the Future

    Keycha Gallon, born and raised in Richmond, California, is driven by a passion for empowering families and individuals. In addition to serving as CEO of Keyz 2 the Future, Keycha leads H.E.R. Worth, a women’s group offering support and empowerment, and has served as the Treasurer/Project Coordinator for Motivated 2 Help Others, leading its growth into a thriving grassroots nonprofit. Motivated 2 Help Others’ programs provide mentorship, fitness, and essential resources, revitalizing the community. Keycha also has over 21 years of experience working at Kaiser Permanente, and is a certified life coach. As a life coach, she guides community members on their life paths, advocating for stricter gun laws and the rights of violent crime victims. She’s committed to forging coalitions between nonprofits and businesses, fostering positive change in her community.

    Keycha holds degrees in Sociology, Business Administration, and an MBA with a focus on Project Management. 

    Keyz 2 the Future is a survivor-led mentorship program aiding youth affected by gun violence. Through financial literacy and trauma-informed therapy, Keyz 2 the Future empowers young people to make positive choices. 

Sarah Burdine, Vice President of the OHSSG

I am the Vice President of the Oklahoma Homicide Survivors Support Group. OHSSG is a nonprofit organization created to serve Oklahoma homicide victims. I began my advocacy work after my son Ciar Pierce was shot and killed on August 25, 2012. His case grew cold and remained unsolved, and I grew increasingly frustrated with law enforcement.  

I have personal experience with applying for VOCA funding. I was initially denied victim compensation based on my son’s “involvement” with his own death. My son was clearly a homicide victim, but I had to prove that during the appeal process. My experience with this process sparked a personal mission for me to ensure that all victims of gun violence are aware of the victim compensation funding and apply for what they are entitled to receive. 

OHSSG helps families to file the initial victims compensation paperwork. We also assist with submitting appeals if initial claims are denied. We are also there in the “in-between” time. This is the period after a homicide or crime, but before victims receive funds. Victims often have immediate financial needs that cannot wait for VOCA funding to come through. These include rent or mortgage assistance and utility assistance. People also need money in general to cover the wages lost after being a victim of a crime. We’ve helped people cover groceries and necessities, travel costs, and more.

The process to apply for financial assistance after a crime is typically straightforward. But it can be mentally daunting for families right after a traumatic event. I often encourage people to have someone help them to fill out the paperwork to reduce their stress.

Although the application process is straightforward, the denials we see at OHHSG can be shocking. Here in Oklahoma, the denials we see lead us to believe that there is racial bias in how funds are granted.  Despite all of this, I always encourage all families to file claims for assistance. If these claims are denied, I advocate for them to file appeals, as well.

Even when people receive the funds, they unfortunately aren’t always enough to cover a funeral, burial, and headstone. Many families decide to cremate their loved one as a way of saving money. Alternatively, they have to crowdsource for portions of their funeral costs or to buy a headstone. We also assist them in finding ways to procure funding outside of VOCA, should they need to go this route. 

  • Learn more about Sarah Burdine and OHSSG

    Sarah Burdine serves as Vice President of OHSSG. She is on the Oklahoma Advisory Board of Marsy’s Law, volunteers with Moms Demand Action in Oklahoma, and is a Senior Fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network. Sarah began her advocacy work after growing increasingly frustrated with law enforcement after her son Ciar Pierce was shot and killed on August 25, 2012, and his case grew cold and remained unsolved. Sarah now devotes her time to assisting families that have been affected by homicide, helping them navigate life after such devastating loss. From assisting with funerals and filing crime victim’s compensation paperwork to understanding the court process of trials and sentencing, Sarah seeks to provide resources and compassion to families in Oklahoma who have experienced a homicide. 

    The OHSSG exists for members to emotionally support each other, facilitate legislative efforts that support the rights of victims, and serve as a unified voice in public relations. 

Sheree Kennon, Executive Director of What About Us

My son Detrario Whorton was killed by gun violence in 2021. I founded What About Us after his death to provide accessible and effective services for crime victims. What About Us supports families by giving families “grief baskets” with care items and by holding balloon releases prior to funerals for children who have been killed by gun violence. We also offer monthly support group sessions.

After my son’s killing, I taught myself how to navigate the VOCA application process. Now, I help other families fill out and submit the application step-by-step. So far, What About Us has helped over 25 mothers fill out these applications. Unfortunately, all 25 are still pending.

I’ve seen others who have applied for assistance be denied for several reasons. One primary cause is that the application itself does not clearly inform people that they have to send in additional information. Many claims are denied because the application needs “more information.” But oftentimes applicants aren’t even told what that information is; they are left to guess. With limited access to VOCA advocates, people like me have to do our best to step in and provide assistance to the victims. We help them to determine what information may be still needed. We also step up to provide assistance with gun violence survivors’ other needs as they wait to hear back on their applications.

  • Learn more about Sheree Kennon and What About Us

    Sheree Kennon is a Violence Prevention Specialist originally from Gadsden, AL who now resides in Birmingham, AL. Sheree is the Executive Director for “What About Us,” a nonprofit organization that supports families/parents that have lost a loved one to gun violence. She is also currently employed with the Offender Alumni Association’s Hospital Violence Intervention Program. 

    Sheree taught herself, through her own trial and error, how to fill out the Victims Of Crime Act (VOCA) application. As a result, she has been an amazing resource for other victims who may not be able to navigate through the complicated application process. 

    Sheree has a passion for people which is evident through her continuous dedication to families in need, which was birthed while navigating through her own grief after losing her son, Detraio Whorton, in 2021. Sheree believes that by helping others where they are, she can help them identify the stages of grief so that they are better able to cope with the realities of life without their loved ones.

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