Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Trust Fund Runs Afoul of State Auditors; Money for Brain and Spinal Victims Misused

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Trust Fund Runs Afoul of State Auditors; Money for Brain and Spinal Victims Misused

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

A state trust fund aimed at helping brain- and spinal-injury victims lead normal lives has inexplicably barred its funds from being used for medical treatment and instead paid for iPods, lawnmowers and appliances, according to a scathing report from state auditors.

But the head of the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund said the report doesn't paint a full picture of the agency's efforts and seems to spring at least in part from a misunderstanding of the fund's role.

The audit takes to task the commission overseeing the fund for limiting its spending on medical expenses, devoting its funds to seemingly frivolous purchases and allowing administrative expenses to eat up money that could be going to those the fund is supposed to help.

"Improvements are needed in all aspects of the operations of the trust fund. ... Our review found that the commission is not administering the trust fund in keeping with the fund's overall purpose as outlined in the constitutional amendment and state law," the auditors wrote.

The fund was set up under an amendment to the state Constitution approved by voters in 1998, with revenue generated from a 10 percent fee on DUI convictions.

Auditors questioned the commission's interpretation of the law, namely the agency's belief that it doesn't have to pay for medical expenses and should instead focus its efforts on trying to help Georgians with spinal and brain injuries lead independent lives.

The commission will provide up to $5,000 for some medical expenses that follow the initial accident that causes a brain or spinal-cord injury, but not for the cost of care for the accident itself.

But the auditors said failing to do so likely runs afoul of state laws and didn't match up with what legislators meant when they created the fund.

"According to an e-mail from the legislator who co-sponsored the amendment that created the trust fund, he understands 'care and rehabilitation' to include 'provid[ing] money to help pay for the catastrophic medical costs of accident victims whose insurance is exhausted,' " the audit said.

Craig Young, executive director of the fund, said paying for medical expenses wasn't necessary in many cases and could eat up much of the fund's revenues. …

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