March 30, 2011

No More Salt in the Wound

Annette Joyce of Derry, who was attacked at her home in June, continues physical
 therapy with Derry personal trainer Jane Clayton, right. 
Union Leader Correspondent

Nine months ago, Annette Joyce was blindsided and literally knocked to the ground outside her home in a violent attack at the
hands of a drug-crazed stranger.
Her bones were splintered, her arms badly bruised, and her peace of mind shattered.
Her assailant, 32-year-old Casey Jesson, pleaded guilty to seconddegree assault and was sentenced a few weeks ago in Rockingham
 County Superior Court to serve three to six years in state prison. 

Thanks to the N.H. Victims’ Assistance Compensation program,
 Annette Joyce’s $50,000-worth of medical bills have
been paid so she can focus on healing.
Meanwhile, life has gone on for Joyce, who continues her slow journey on the road to recovery. The strength in her right leg is starting to return. Her bones, held together by metal rods and screws, still ache. She has gotten back to a regular exercise routine three days a week with her personal trainer, Jane Clayton of Derry. 
Outwardly, she’s on the mend. Psychologically, she’s finally found some closure, not only with the relief that came with Jesson’s sentencing, but because her mounting medical bills have all been paid. 
Until three weeks ago, the unpaid bills totaling more than $50,000 were piling up on her counter. 
Joyce, whose husband, David, is self-employed, has no health insurance. 
“They are right on you, all the time, to pay the bills. My accounts were sent to a collection agency,” said Joyce. “Thank goodness someone told me about the Victim’s Assistance Program. I’ve been working with them since I got out of the hospital, and finally everything’s been taken care of. I can’t tell you what a relief that is.” 
Joyce’s bills were negotiated on her behalf by N.H. Victims’ Assistance Commission, a statewide program that helps victims of violent crime with expenses related to their injuries, said Sandra Matheson, state director of victim witness advocacy with the N.H. Department of Justice. 
Last year 673 victims received a total of $520,514 through the fund, which is paid for by fees tacked on to fines paid by the general public, whether for speeding, shoplifting, disorderly conduct, driving while intoxicated — it’s a 5 percent mandatory fee that feeds the Victim’s Assistance fund. 
Sort of like lawbreakers paying it forward to innocent victims of crime, Matheson said. 
It’s a program that was instituted 24 years ago, part of a legislative mission Matheson spearheaded to standardize assistance for crime victims. Back then, New Hampshire was one of only three states that did not have such a program. 
“We recognized it as probably one of the most essential services for victims, created really to make sure victims didn’t suffer financially in addition to all the trauma they’d already been through,” Matheson said. 
“For example, when a sex assault victim went to the hospital so that DNA evidence could be collected from her body, she was billed for that collection. Someone whose child was murdered would have to take out a loan to bury their loved one. Without coverage, the kind of counseling needed for victims following cases of homicide or sex assault were billed and, eventually, sent to collections, creating, in essence, a re-violation of the victim,” Matheson said. 
It’s not meant to work like an insurance policy. It doesn’t cover items stolen during a burglary. But if your front door has to be taken as evidence in a murder case, or your clothing and bedding are hauled away from a crime scene as evidence, a victim can recoup that kind of loss. 
“Annette Joyce is typical of someone who has been affected by violent crime. They are totally traumatized, and the last thing they need to worry about is whether they can afford medical bills or counseling. In our homicide cases, the fund pays for crime-scene cleanup. So when an individual goes back to the place where a loved one was murdered, it makes it that much easier to go home again. The fund pays for funeral and burial costs, loss of earnings and court expenses, if you have to go and testify,” Matheson said.
Although the program has been around for decades, it’s not widely known about. 
Annette Joyce said she heard about it through her cousin, who is a hospital employee. 
Cynthia Marshall, operations director for The Upper Room, believes educating the community about the program is essential if it’s going to serve all of those in need. To that end, a lunch-hour workshop has been planned at the regional community center on Tsienneto Road for April 6, to bring together all those interested in learning more. 
“A major part of what we do is provide resources, information and referrals to the community. This particular resource is not something that we had a lot of information on, so as soon as I heard about it I knew we had to plan a presentation,” Marshall said. 
While the April event has strategically targeted police and fire personnel, first responders, school staffers and crisis workers, all are invited. Marshall sees it as the kind of program that everyone should be up to speed on. 
“I’d add to the list business owners, neighbors, friends — I believe everyone in the community would benefit from knowing how the program works, who’s eligible and how to get the help you need if you’re a victim of crime,” Marshall said. “We have a mountain of resources at our center for people in need, and this was not one of them.” 
The program is April 6 from noon to 1 p.m. at The Upper Room, 36 Tsienneto Road, Derry. For more information, call 437-8477.

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