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Victims to receive aid for medical, burial costs

By Christy Oglesby

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks are eligible for assistance in paying for burial expenses, medical bills, lost wages or counseling under a federal program for those who incur losses because of federal crimes.

Officials are studying how to alter the 17-year-old program to accommodate the magnitude and the unusual circumstances of the attacks, including how to assist international victims and their families, said Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

"This is special and different from everything we've done before," Miller said. "We don't know how much we'll be getting or how it will be dispersed," but people who are in need should begin registering for assistance.

The Department of Justice established an office in 1984 to assist the victims of federal crimes, and many have used the resources since then. Families affected by the murders in Yellowstone Park, and terrorist attacks on Pan Am 103 and the Khobar Towers received help, as well as students and families affected by the Columbine High School shootings.

"Columbine was not a federal crime, but the president requested that we make money available for counseling," Miller said.

The federal Victims of Crime Act allows the Justice Department to administer money to states to help pay for burial expenses, medical bills and lost wages for crime victims and their families.

The typical program requires victims to report crimes within three days and file claims within an established time period. States can extend time limits for legitimate reasons. Victims receive aid only for expenses that other resources such as insurance will not cover.

The maximum amount of assistance varies from $10,000 to $25,000. Usually, the U.S. Department of Justice provides a percentage of what a state gives to victims, so the dollar amount is affected by the generosity of a state, Miller said. A victim might receive 40 percent of $6,000 if that is the maximum a state grants or 40 percent of $30,000, the amount Pennsylvania grants to federal crime victims.

That percentage guideline is one of the considerations officials are examining, Miller said. Recognizing the international impact of the attack, the department is also reviewing how to compensate people who were not U.S. citizens and how to aid international families whose relatives died as a result of the plane crashes.

Regardless of a victim's place of residence, families or survivors likely will apply for aid through the governor's victim assistance office in the state where the victim died, Miller said.

• Terrorism and International Victims Unit
• Office for Victims of Crime

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