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By the end of next month, nearly $30 million in private contributions may be handed out to hundreds of victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. The administrator of the fund outlined plans last night for who might be eligible and how the money will be divided. But survivors and their families are questioning how a dollar value can be given to their injuries and losses.
NPR's Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: The meeting was painful even before it started, with many walking into the building just a few yards away from where their loved ones lost a leg or a life.
KEN FEINBERG: This meeting tonight, at this time at this place, may be extremely challenging.
SMITH: Administrator Ken Feinberg pointed out Red Cross volunteers for anyone who might feel queasy or upset, as he put it. He's had years of experience with victims, from 9/11 to the shootings in Aurora, Virginia Tech and Newtown. But Feinberg was blunt. There is still no really good way, he says, to divvy up money among those who've suffered.
FEINBERG: Double amputations, single amputations, burns, permanent brain damage, hospitalization this long, hospitalization that long. Solomon himself would have problems with this.
SMITH: Still, Feinberg offered a draft of a crude ranking system. The top tier would be death claims, victims with permanent brain damage, and double amputees. The second bracket, those who lost a single limb. And third, those hospitalized with other injuries. But even those broadly drawn lines left many with questions as heartbreaking as they were unanswerable.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My daughter right now is a single amputee. The doctors are working to save her other leg. Do I understand correctly that if she still has her other leg by June 15, she'll be considered single amputee?
SMITH: Another man stood up to ask if an amputation below the knee was worth less than one above-the-knee.
Yet another, Matt Reese, asked about his father-in-law, who undergoes his tenth operation today.
MATT REESE: Our victim has no use of his leg. It's not amputated, but he has no use of it. I mean is that another...
SMITH: Feinberg encouraged victims to send doctors' notes or come meet with him to explain their cases. But it will have to be quick, he says. Final rules will be issued next week; applications need to be in by June 15 and checks will go out by the end of June. Feinberg says he's still debating whether to consider financial need. He doesn't want to slow the process down, he says, but he also doesn't want to offer the same amount of money to those who already have resources and those who don't.
Another question that'll be left to Feinberg to decide: psychological injuries, should they be covered and where to draw the line.
FEINBERG: You might get thousands with mental trauma. I was watching on TV and I have mental trauma. I don't know. What are the parameters of that?
SMITH: Same with those who were injured but not hospitalized. A legitimate claim, Feinberg says, but will they get anything? Iffy, he said, prompting outrage from some like Jared Mahoney.
JARED MAHONEY: Why aren't they just receiving 100 percent medical care? It shouldn't even be a question.
SMITH: After all the outpouring of support into a fund meant to make victims at least financially whole, it was left to Feinberg to explain that in most cases it would not.
FEINBERG: You see some records that say it'll cost them over a lifetime millions of dollars in medical care. We don't have that type of money to pay people. We can only do what we can do.
SMITH: People should adjust their expectations, Feinberg says. Even a billion dollars, he says, wouldn't be enough.
Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.