Victims Feel Slighted By Oklahoma Bombing Fund It's been almost 18 years since a bomb destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City. Today, millions of dollars remain unspent in a fund established for blast survivors — and some victims are asking why they've been denied assistance they say they need.
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Victims Feel Slighted By Oklahoma Bombing Fund

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Victims Feel Slighted By Oklahoma Bombing Fund

Victims Feel Slighted By Oklahoma Bombing Fund

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It has been nearly 20 years since a truck bomb blew apart the federal building in Oklahoma City. Almost immediately, donations poured in from around the world to help that community recover. Today, millions of dollars remain in a private fund to assist victims and surviving family members. But as Kurt Gwartney of member station KGOU reports, some of those affected by the blast say even with all that cash available, they've been denied help.

KURT GWARTNEY, BYLINE: There are no signs demanding silence from visitors to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, but it's always quiet.


GWARTNEY: A carillon in a church across the street punctuates the stillness of the site where Timothy McVeigh detonated a fuel oil and fertilizer bomb on April 19, 1995. One hundred sixty-eight people died. Hundreds more were injured.

FALESHA JOYNER: Though it's been 17 and a half, almost 18 years, it feels like yesterday to me, because I'm still stuck in the same spot.

GWARTNEY: Falesha Joyner was 23 years old the day of the Murrah Federal Building bombing. She was with her family at the Social Security office filling out paperwork. The blast killed her mom, a niece and a nephew. It also shattered her head, leaving her without an ear. The right side of her body is partially paralyzed. Joyner says a few years after the bombing she was on her own to pay for surgeries, equipment and care she still needed.

JOYNER: I didn't deserve to go through this, but I have to suffer the consequences of somebody else's doing. And I'm doing that, but can I get some help along the way? I was told the funds were depleted. That's the exact words. That touched my soul. I will never forget the exact words that I heard.

GWARTNEY: Since learning of the 10 million dollars remaining in the Disaster Relief Fund, several families say they don't understand why they've been denied benefits. The fund was set up to take care of unmet needs of those affected by the bombing. Joyner says her support disappeared once she started receiving Social Security disability checks, but that money wasn't enough.

Jerrel Wade doesn't understand the fuss. He was 17 when his father died in the bombing. He says he wouldn't be where he is today without help from the fund.

JERREL WADE: Based on my experience, I found the criticisms rather surprising. The process that I've always gone through has always been easy. I've never had any issues dealing with the foundation at all.

GWARTNEY: Wade is getting his doctorate in Houston with financial assistance from the Disaster Relief Fund. Cathy Nestlen is with the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. She questions the accusations first reported in the Tulsa World newspaper.

CATHY NESTLEN: Well, we believe a number of those allegations or complaints or claims that are made in the article are incorrect or just a misunderstanding. So I think there's a misconception that we dealt with every survivor of the Murrah bombing. And that necessarily isn't the case.

GWARTNEY: Nestlen says IRS regulations require that the fund serve only unmet needs, which means individuals looking for help must first find support elsewhere, including educational grants and public assistance. Since the bombing, the foundation says nearly 11 million dollars has been used to pay for medical and living expenses, education needs and case management.

In response to questions over the use of the account, the foundation has agreed to conduct an independent audit. Gloria Chipman says regardless of what the audit finds, the existence of the money is far from comforting to those left behind. Her husband died in the bombing and she's even resorted to pawning family belongings to make up for the lost income.

GLORIA CHIPMAN: I am going to speak up. This is a tragedy. It's compounded. We have not been able to heal completely. You think you are, and then something else comes out and slaps you in the face, slaps you down.

GWARTNEY: Chipman and a group of others are now calling on Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to make sure the money ends up in the hands of those affected by the bombing.

For NPR News, I'm Kurt Gwartney in Oklahoma City.

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