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NYSNYS NEWS: Victims of horrific crimes offer thanks to NYS Office of Victims Services on 50th anniversary.
NYSNYS NEWS: Victims of horrific crimes offer thanks to NYS Office of Victims Services on 50th anniversary.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 2) -- Theresa Sareo's leg was severed at the hip by an impaired driver while she waited to cross a NYC street 14 years ago, and Lisa Gilbert's 2 year old suffered brain damage after brutal abuse by a babysitter in 2007.

Both women came here Tuesday to mark a milestone, the 50th anniversary of the NYS Office of Victim Services, a little known state agency that offers lifetime help to people financially and in other ways when they or family members become innocent victims of crime.

"Trauma recovery doesn't end when you leave the hospital or the courtroom or the therapist's office," Sareo said before a reception at the Empire State Plaza marking the anniversary of the bill being signed into law. "It lasts the rest of your life. I would not be the productive, successful and strong woman I am today without the continuum of support from OVS."

"My medical, emotional and prosthetic needs are an everyday negotiation and to know that the OVS support is still there makes this loss and all its challenges bearable," she said. At the time of her injury, Sareo had moved to NYC from Elmira to pursue a career as a singer and songwriter and continues to do so today.

Gilbert said that the agency helped outfit the family's home in Rotterdam, Schenectady County, to accommodate the needs of her daughter Riley, who was profoundly disabled after suffering abuse after being attacked by a babysitter who was a longtime family friend.

"Riley was only 2 years old when she suffered a traumatic brain injury caused by her babysitter," Gilbert said. "Our whole world was shattered and everything changed."

"The first time I called OVS I was in tears because our insurance company denied a toilet seat for Riley, saying it wasn't medically necessary. I didn't understand how that could be the case. OVS helped up get that toilet seat and since then have been incredible and helped us get Riley all the care and medical equipment that she needs."

The agency helped make the home completely wheelchair accessible. "There is no way that we would have been able to modify the house to meet her needs the way OVS has allowed us to do."

She said the family will not stop fighting to get the child the help she needs and "we're so glad we have OVS in our corner."

The agency says it was formed in 1966 in response to the problems faced by a family whose father was stabbed to death in front of his wife and young child aboard a New York City subway. "Left with no viable means of income, the woman was forced to send her daughter to live with relatives overseas," the agency said Tuesday. "The highly publicized case prompted then-Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller to propose the creation of the Crime Victim’s Compensation Board to assist innocent victims of crime."

The Crime Victim's Board was renamed the Office of Victim Services in 2010 and "provides compensation to victims and their families, including but not limited to payment of medical, counseling and dental bills; funeral and burial expenses; lost wages and support; replacement of essential property damaged as a result of a crime; relocation expenses; and emergency shelter for domestic violence victims. New York is the only state with no cap on medical or counseling expenses, which means individuals can receive help as long as they need it."

That assistance totaled $20 million in 2015, funded "entirely by fines, fees and surcharges paid by certain offenders convicted in federal and state court."

"In addition to providing crime victim compensation, OVS funds a network of 223 victim assistance programs providing direct services – such as counseling, crisis intervention, advocacy and legal assistance, among others – across New York State," the agency said. "These community-based providers currently receive more than $43.8 million to support their programs and services. Funding for nearly all of those grants also comes from fines, fees and surcharges paid by convicted offenders."

The agency said it would kick off a "Help, Healing and Hope for Crime Victims" public service announcement campaign later this month to let people know about the help that is available. The campaign is slated to run through 2017.