Fri Mar 1, 2013 9:17 AM EST
By Anna Schecter
A group of survivors and relatives of those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing are outraged that there is $10 million sitting in a disaster relief fund designed to help them. Meanwhile they say they’ve been denied help for years.
“They tell us that there are all these restrictions,” said Deloris Watson, whose grandson, P.J. Allen, was severely injured in the April 1995 explosion.
PJ Allen in the hospital after being injured in the Oklahoma City Bombing.
Watson said she was led to believe the fund was depleted because it has been so difficult over the past 18 years to get financial aid.
A year after the bombing, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation was entrusted with $14.5 million in donated money from sympathetic individuals and religious groups around the world. The money was put into a newly established Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund.
Then-Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating mandated that the fund be used to help with the long-term health care needs of survivors and scholarships for children who lost a parent in the blast.
Watson said the Oklahoma City Community Foundation was helpful at first, but as the years wore on, the caseworkers lost their empathy.
“It’s been horrible. It has been absolutely horrible. I try not to reveal that to P.J., the struggle, the attitude, the lack of respect,” Watson told NBC News’ Harry Smith in an interview airing tonight at 10pm/9CDT on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.
In 2005, then-11-year-old Allen needed major surgery on his trachea. Watson, who became his sole guardian after the bombing, said the Oklahoma City Community Foundation refused to pay for the surgery directly, instead steering her toward Medicaid to cover the cost.
“Why would the state of Oklahoma have to take money from taxpayers when money’s been donated to the bombing fund to meet the medical needs of the children?” asked Watson.
The Ronald McDonald House, the Red Cross and the Oklahoma City Community Foundation all pitched in to cover hospital and living expenses during Allen’s recovery and rehabilitation after the surgery.
Watson and a handful of disgruntled survivors and relatives of those killed have formed a group called the Survivor Tree.
One member, Gloria Chipman, lost her husband in the bombing. She said that though her son was given tuition money for college, her daughter was told by the foundation that her grades were not good enough for financial aid.
“You get denied so many times, you finally — you give up,” Chipman said.
Falesha Joyner lost an ear in the explosion. She said she just wants contact lenses because without an ear, her glasses will not stay on.
When Tim Hearn’s mother was killed in the bombing, he left school to raise his siblings. Last year he was denied tuition money for trade school, he said, because the Oklahoma City Community Foundation told him he was too old.
Tim Hearn says the fund has denied him money to attend trade school.
“They can’t put a time limit on when a person wants to go to school. They don’t know my situation. You know, if they lost someone through a bombing or anything like that, they’d feel what I’m talking about,” said Hearn.
Nancy Anthony, president of the foundation, told NBC News there is another side to the story.
She said the caseworkers who have been helping survivors and the families of victims are caring and do the best they can to help those in need.
“I think everybody has to be realistic about what can be done and how much money can really do,” Anthony said, adding that she cannot comment on specific cases because of confidentiality agreements.
The disgruntled survivors all believe the foundation cares more about preserving the fund than providing assistance.
They said they are always pushed to state and federal programs first, resulting in a grind through government bureaucracies that has left them exhausted and angry.