PART II: ITVERP Assistance and Outreach: Reporting Period of September 2011September 2012
This report summarizes the International Terrorism Victim Expense Reimbursement Program's (ITVERP) activities during the September 1, 2011, through September 30, 2012, reporting period. For this reporting period only, 13 months of program data are captured in order to produce subsequent program activity reports that align with the federal fiscal year. This report covers two main areas of ITVERP assistanceapplication processing and claims payment, and public awareness activities undertaken to reach out to potential claimants. A discussion of future program needs and improvements is included at the end of the report.
- ITVERP completed reimbursement of its first claims (32) received from Foreign Service Nationals who were victimized by the August 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.
- ITVERP established points of contact with all branches of the U.S. Military and their respective benefits offices to help determine collateral source coverage for military victims and surviving family members.
- ITVERP conducted outreach to more than 300 individuals and 30 government and nongovernment organizations.
- ITVERP trained more than 10 contract staff to support claims processing in the case of a large terrorist incident. These surge staff are available to provide additional coverage and ongoing support to ITVERP program staff.
- ITVERP, through its internal audit practices, identified an overpayment made to a claimant based on a debt owed at the time of reimbursement that was later waived. ITVERP obtained a full reimbursement in the amount of $24,354.
This section highlights the activities and accomplishments related to ITVERP's main function of processing applications for reimbursement, including
- The number of applications received;
- The status of claims;
- The current processing time for claims;
- Details regarding reimbursements paid to claimants; and
- The number of appeals under the program to date.
During this reporting period, ITVERP received 35 new applications for reimbursement. The applications reflect terrorist incidents dating from June 14, 1985, to May 20, 2012. Exhibit 5 illustrates the number of applications received during each ITVERP reporting period since the program's inception in 2006.
As claims reach certain phases in the application process, OVC assigns them one of four related statuses. Claims may be in process for several weeks while eligibility and expenses are verified and additional information is gathered. Frequently, claimants initiate the application process but do not provide complete information. Claimants have 120 calendar days from the time ITVERP receives their initial application to provide the necessary information or the claim will become inactive. A claim is also considered inactive if the claim is denied. A claim is considered paid after a claimant receives payment.
At the end of this reporting period, there were 26 active claims, of which 23 claims were in process and 3 claims were pending incident review and designation by the National Security Division (NSD). ITVERP has paid 171 claims, denied 39 claims, and designated 25 claims inactive/unresponsive since the implementation of the program in 2006. Exhibit 6 presents the status of all ITVERP claims.
During this reporting period, ITVERP completed 32 claims received from Foreign Service Nationals (FSN) (also known as locally employed staff) who were victimized in the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998. These claims represented the first claims ITVERP received from FSNs. Of the 32 FSN claims, 3 were not eligible. Of the remaining 29 claims, 21 were injured victims and 8 were surviving spouses of deceased FSNs. The total amount reimbursed for 29 of 32 claims was $76,316.20.
Processing the Kenyan FSN claims presented some challenges as well as opportunities for interagency collaboration. ITVERP identified and established points of contact within the U.S. Department of State's Office of Casualty Assistance, the Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, and the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Agriculture to verify the victims and to confirm the claimant's relationship to the victim. Issuing payments to the claimants posed a challenge. Due to Kenya's predominantly cash-based economy, most of the claimants do not have bank accounts, and many banks in Kenya do not transfer money electronically. As a result, ITVERP facilitated issuing paper checks and coordinating payments with award letters for the claimants through Embassy staff in Nairobi. The U.S. Embassy staff in Nairobi played a key role in facilitating contact with the claimants and scheduling meetings so that claimants could physically receive their awards. Without their assistance, ITVERP reimbursement awards may have been more difficult to disperse to the Kenyan claimants. ITVERP continues to receive claims from victims of the bombing and now works regularly with the U.S. Embassy staff in Nairobi to facilitate payments and award letters. Of the 35 new applications received during this reporting period, 6 are from Kenyan FSNs.
To process claims, ITVERP requires verification of claimant eligibility and confirmation that submitted expenses are processed in compliance with ITVERP regulations. Generally denied claims require less time to process because ITVERP does not have to wait for the application to be completed by the claimant or for expenses to be verified to determine the applicant's eligibility. However, depending on the reason for the denial, claims may undergo victim verification and the incident designation process prior to the claim's dismissal. For example, if victim verification requires coordination with an investigating agency other than the FBI, it may take time to identify the agency responsible for verification. Also, if an incident is submitted to the National Security Division (NSD) for a designation of terrorism, it may take time for NSD to determine whether the event qualifies as a terrorist incident for the purpose of ITVERP. The scenarios described above may all impact review time, thus lengthening the denial process. Exhibit 7 shows the average length of time it took to process the 171 paid claims and the 39 denied claims completed at the end of this reporting period.
Exhibit 8 shows the percentage of time spent on different steps in the claims process, broken down by paid and denied claims.
Potential claimants who incurred multiple expenses as a result of their victimization may apply for reimbursement in more than one expense category. ITVERP case managers work closely with claimants and potential claimants to assess and fully identify their needs to ensure they receive the maximum reimbursement allowed. Exhibit 9 shows the number of reimbursements requested, by expense category, during this reporting period. Many claimants applied for reimbursement under multiple expense categories.
Since 2007, ITVERP paid a total of $1,440,013 on 171 requests for reimbursement. Exhibit 10 shows the percentage of reimbursements paid out by each expense category during the reporting period. Many claimants applied for reimbursement under multiple expense categories.
Under ITVERP regulations, claimants may file an appeal within 30 days of receipt of a final determination on their claim. During this reporting period, no official appeals were filed.
Claims that are in process represent an estimate of ITVERP's potential future liability. If all the claims that are in process are paid in the amounts requested, including the remaining balances on partial payments, ITVERP's future liability is $155,838. Exhibit 11 shows ITVERP's estimated future liability by type of reimbursement.
ITVERP regulation 28 C.F.R. § 94.42 requires a victim to reimburse the program if it is determined that an award either was based on fraudulent information or was an overpayment. Through its internal audit practices during the reporting period, ITVERP identified an overpayment to a claimant when the claimant's creditor later waived the debt owed at the time of reimbursement. The program notified the claimant of the new information on the claim and requested that the overpayment of $24,353 be returned to OVC. The claimant promptly returned the funds.
A change to the ITVERP regulation, effective April 11, 2011, authorized the OVC Director to use discretion in extending the filing deadline for ITVERP applications based on a showing of good cause. Of the 35 applications received during this reporting period, 21 requested and were granted a filing deadline extension.
Victims of terrorism must focus on the immediate medical, mental health, family, housing, and other needs of themselves and their loved ones. Many victims and their families are not aware of the resources available to them. A critical ongoing effort for ITVERP is outreach to inform victims of international terrorist incidents and their families of the assistance this program offers. Outreach activities are focused on two primary groups, potential claimants and collaborating agencies and organizations that may have contact with potential claimants. This section describes the outreach efforts that took place during this reporting period and provides information on the ITVERP Resource Center.
ITVERP outreach efforts focus on victims of international acts of terrorism and their family members who may be eligible for reimbursement under the program. OVC coordinates with the Office for Victim Assistance (OVA) within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to identify potential claimants. When terrorist incidents occur outside the United States and involve U.S. citizens, DOS is the first to respond, locating and identifying U.S. citizens. In most cases, OVA can immediately respond and, where appropriate, identify ITVERP as a potential resource and provide victims or their family members with information about the program. For the victims and family members who choose to apply, ITVERP case managers determine eligibility and provide support and assistance throughout the claims process.
During this reporting period, ITVERP sent more than 1,000 outreach letters and made followup phone calls to more than 200 potential claimants. When e-mail addresses were provided, ITVERP conducted outreach via e-mail. ITVERP also sent outreach letters to all the United States Attorney's across the country and spoke with former Ambassadors to Tanzania and Kenya. Of all these activities, the most challenging obstacle continues to be obtaining accurate contact information for individuals. Many letters are returned to ITVERP because the person is no longer at that address and phone numbers are disconnected. For example, of 98 followup phone calls made to potential claimants, ITVERP case managers spoke with only 2 potential claimants on the list—the rest of the phone numbers were incorrect, disconnected, or the individual was no longer associated with that number. To address these challenges, ITVERP used various online search engines to obtain current, accurate contact information for potential claimants; however, these tools do not provide contact information in any chronological order, thus information yielded from these sources may not be current.
Interagency coordination has also enhanced ITVERP's outreach to individuals. During this reporting period, OVC, OVA, and DOS coordinated efforts to identify and conduct outreach to 298 potential claimants. With materials provided by OVC, OVA disseminated ITVERP information in the immediate aftermath of the shooting in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 2, 2011.
Another goal of OVC's outreach efforts is to educate the victim assistance community, including collaborating agencies and potential partners, about ITVERP. By reaching out to national and international organizations, and individuals that may come into contact with victims of international terrorism, OVC increases awareness about ITVERP and the resources available.
During this reporting period, ITVERP provided direct outreach and program materials to the Consular Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay, and to the U.S. Embassies in Madrid, Spain, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
In addition, OVC worked with the victim witness coordinator in the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York to expand outreach efforts to victims of the U.S.S. Cole and Khobar Towers bombings. During this reporting period, OVC conducted targeted outreach to government and nongovernment entities such as the Peace Corps, all branches of the U.S. Military, DOS, universities that facilitate study abroad programs, religious organizations working abroad, and international journalist associations. ITVERP identified points of contact within the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, and conducted outreach via phone calls and e-mail to them. In addition, ITVERP provided 200 brochures to the officer responsible for training all Casualty Affairs Officers for the Army around the world. The military has been very receptive to ITVERP outreach efforts and has become an allied partner in determining when it is appropriate to refer potential claimants to ITVERP. For example, the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, Office of Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center, is working closely with OVC to provide referral information for ITVERP applicants to the military in order to exhaust their military benefits before receiving any reimbursement under ITVERP.
The ITVERP Resource Center responds to questions and requests made through its dedicated toll-free hotline and e-mail address. Program staff are available to respond to inquiries Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. eastern time. Federal, state, and local government agency staff and nongovernment organizations contact the Resource Center for information about the program's eligibility requirements on behalf of specific individuals, and to provide information about potential claimants that might qualify for ITVERP reimbursement. Similarly, ITVERP staff respond directly to victims who call the hotline requesting assistance with their applications, inquiries about the types of expenses the program covers, and the program's eligibility requirements. For non-English speakers and translation support, ITVERP staff use their individual language capacity if the caller speaks Spanish, Farsi, or Romanian, or accesses the language line for assistance to communicate effectively with any potential caller. This allows for real-time communication with the caller. All congressional inquiries received by OVC are promptly directed to OJP's Office of Communications. During the reporting period, OVC received no written inquiries from congressional offices requesting information on specific ITVERP claims submitted by their constituents.
Claimants and potential applicants can obtain information about the program, including eligibility criteria, reimbursable expenses, and instructions for filing an application, from the ITVERP Web page. Potential claimants can download the ITVERP application, instructions, checklists, and supporting documents directly from the site, which also provides a list of answers to frequently asked questions to assist with the application process. During the reporting period, OVC enhanced the page to include an updated list of NSD-designated terrorist attacks.
While there have been important achievements since ITVERP began, OVC must ensure that resources continue to be readily and easily accessible to victims and their families. During the past year, OVC gained valuable information that will guide future enhancements to ITVERP. For example, as ITVERP grows and claims require more sophisticated analysis to determine expense eligibility, the program requires a more robust data management system. Such a system could allow for claims-driven policies to inform current and subsequent claims while also maximizing the program's efficiency at managing claims. Similarly, a more comprehensive system would enhance service delivery to victims by providing greater transparency into the ITVERP claims process and allow program staff to produce more accurate and detailed reports.
Enhancing customer service and communication with claimants continues to be a program priority. OVC will continue to focus on customer service, including reviewing the mechanisms available to ITVERP that can improve claims processing times for victims, and staff communication with victims and families applying for reimbursement. Additionally, OVC recognizes the importance of collaborating with other agencies and organizations and will continue to expand its partnership network.
As ITVERP continues to assist victims and their families in the aftermath of international terrorist incidents, OVC enhances its outreach and customer service efforts. In the coming year, OVC will focus on cultivating annual outreach efforts to allied agencies and updating the ITVERP application and accompanying materials to be more user friendly. Feedback from victims, families, and stakeholders continues to be important to OVC. In an effort to better capture claimant feedback, OVC plans to implement a customer feedback mechanism to capture claimant experiences and identify areas for program improvement. Program staff will continue to expand language access to ITVERP, where appropriate, for victims with limited English proficiency and improve the ITVERP Web site with enhancements based on the principles of plain language.