Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Dwight Evans seek federal advisory council to assist gunshot victims

Originally published by Pittsburgh Post Gazette on May 7, 2019


Four months into 2019, hundreds of people have been shot in Pennsylvania..

Not all of the shootings resulted in fatalities. But just because someone manages to cheat death in an operating room doesn’t mean he or she won’t face months or years of struggling to recover, to adapt to a new life full of physical and psychological disabilities that create significant needs.

For many of those victims and their loved ones, day-to-day survival depends on being able to navigate a confusing maze of state, federal, and local government bureaucracy as they try to stitch together enough aid for basic necessities, like functional wheelchairs and handicapped-accessible housing.

This American problem affects more than 100,000 people every year, in rural areas and cities alike. But it’s also an issue that hasn’t been meaningfully studied. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans cosponsored the Resources for Victims of Gun Violence Act, which promises to establish a federal advisory council to support victims of gun violence, and identify gaps in the myriad support systems.

The council, which will be made up of gun violence survivors and an assortment of federal agencies, will be tasked with submitting a report to Congress within 180 days of the bill’s passage that documents which programs are effective and whether new services are needed.

The bill comes in response to a 2018 Inquirer investigation about the lifelong burdens shouldered by survivors and their families.

“Your work really spotlighted a huge problem,” Mr. Casey said. “It’s not one that gets a lot of attention.”

Mr. Evans struck an optimistic note when asked whether he thought the bill could attract bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

“We’re not impeding on anybody’s rights, first and foremost,” he said. “The issue is about data collection and information, something I believe that can help us make better policies, and address this critical problem that we have around gun violence.”

Jami Amo, a Columbine survivor, suggested to The Inquirer last year that there ought to be a national clearinghouse that gun violence survivors could consult to discover all of the resources they’re entitled to, with a clear explanation of how to navigate the application processes.

She credited Mr. Casey and Mr. Evans for taking the lead on an overdue task: establishing baseline information on the needs of gun violence survivors — no matter if they were wounded during overlooked street-corner gunfire or during a mass shooting that attracted national attention.

“It is hopeful. I do see it as a great first step,” Ms. Amo said this week. “First step being the operative words here. Now we have to talk about how are we going to expand these programs, make them more accessible, and make them more beneficial to people who need them.”

The council will be run by the Department of Health and Human Services and depend on input from gun violence survivors, victim assistance professionals, and federal officials like the attorney general, the assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, and the director of the Office for Victims of Crime.

In their joint bill, Mr. Casey and Mr. Evans outline the grim scope of the country’s gun violence epidemic. More than 325 mass shootings were reported in 2018, and firearms are now the second leading cause of death for children and teenagers — and leading cause of death for black children and teenagers.