AP NEWS

Families left with emotional, financial toll of gun violence

April 7, 2019
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In this July 23, 2018, photo, David Green gets a hug from Minyon Donner, a certified nursing assistant at Standifer Place, before he is discharged from the facility in Chattanooga, Tenn. Green was taken home by ambulance from Standifer Place after several months of rehabilitation. It’s been almost two years since eight bullets tore through his body, shredding his spine and internal organs. His grandmother says he has nine lives. One bullet that surgeons weren’t able to remove remains lodged in his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Green’s circumstance is not unique. He was one of 138 victims of criminal shootings in Chattanooga in 2017. (Erin O. Smith/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — David Green can move the toes on his left foot if he concentrates.

It’s not easy. Some motions are painful, and the 33-year-old strains to perform even basic tasks, but he’s not one to complain.

He says he counts his blessings every day.

It’s been almost two years since eight bullets tore through his body, shredding his spine and internal organs. His grandmother says he has nine lives. One bullet that surgeons weren’t able to remove remains lodged in his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Green’s circumstance is not unique. He was one of 138 victims of criminal shootings in Chattanooga in 2017. Of those, 29 died and 109 were injured.

Gun violence across the United States not only leaves physical wounds, like Green’s, it can financially devastate victims and their families, who face enormous medical bills and lost wages.

It also costs hospitals, insurance companies, businesses, the prison system, city governments and public safety agencies — and that’s just scratching the surface.

Shootings carry an estimated annual price tag of more than $260 billion in costs across the United States, according to economist Ted Miller, an injury and violence cost expert with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. Tennessee ranked No. 7 out of the 50 states for the highest costs of gun violence and firearm-related injuries at $8 billion, based on 2014 injury data and adjusted for 2018 inflation.

Each year, the cost of firearm injuries in Tennessee amounts to $1,248 per resident.

Nationally, acute and ongoing medical costs for firearm injuries, like Green’s, cost the country $2.1 billion.

The costs to police and the criminal justice system — such as court fees, probation, jails — total $7.5 billion in the United States.

Then there’s the loss in wages for the victim, cost to the employer and losses to quality of life. Indirect costs such as those amount to more than $245 billion nationally, or about $671 million a day.

Sgt. Josh May, supervisor of the Chattanooga Police Department’s gun unit, has dedicated his career to crime suppression. To May, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a flesh wound — physically and emotionally, that person will never be the same again.

“It affects so many people, whether it’s your insurance rates going up or it’s a knock on the door at 3 in the morning from someone there because your child was shot,” May explained. “It doesn’t matter what your background is, your personality, what you’re into — no one should be murdered in the street.”

On March 31, 2017, Green was driving across town with his girlfriend to see his father. When they pulled up to a red light at the intersection of West 38th Street and Market Street, Green looked to his left at a car that had pulled up alongside them. He saw a man hanging out of the passenger window, aiming a pistol at him.

“I heard the first shot before I could say anything,” he said.

The shooter — a 16-year-old — unloaded into Green’s car.

Of the bullets that found their target, one hit his shoulder, two more went through his leg and the rest struck his torso. He said he thought of the four children he’d been raising with his girlfriend and rolled over to shield her as well as he could.

One of the shots that hit his leg caused him to jam his foot on the gas, accelerating the car through the intersection until it collided with a small light pole across the street.

“When I hit the pole, I was actually looking back at him. I’m literally looking this man in his eyes,” he said. “Then I just sat there behind the wheel, trying to breathe.”

The suspect, who police say Green knew through an ongoing gang dispute, fled immediately after the crash. He was later arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Like many shooting survivors, Green is now shackled to tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Before he was shot, Green worked in landscaping and at a fast-food restaurant — two physically demanding jobs that required him to be on his feet. Now, he lives with his grandmother and scrapes by each month on a $500 disability payment.

Green doesn’t know how he and his family are going to pay his ongoing medical bills, but he says he’ll keep counting his blessings.

“God is keeping me here for a reason,” Green said. “The reason and purpose I don’t know, but he’s keeping me here.”

Some shooting victims escape with minor graze wounds. Others incur life-altering physical or psychological injuries. The costs they and their families bear depend largely on the extent of damage done to their bodies.

Dr. Robert Maxwell, a trauma surgeon at Erlanger Medical Center, said that although people realize shootings can be life-threatening, they’re often ill-prepared to deal with the fallout that comes with lasting injuries.

“That’s part of the tragedy of being a trauma patient — you can be perfectly healthy one minute, then sustain a (serious) injury from a gunshot wound or car wreck, and it’s hard for families to deal with that,” Maxwell said.

The average emergency room cost for a shooting victim ranges from $5,000 to $100,000 — depending on the type of injury — according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs. And many of those patients are uninsured.

Victims with extensive injuries often can’t work the same jobs they did before, if they can work at all. So in some cases, the financial burden falls to their families.

Taxpayers, too, foot the bill when shooting victims need government support to pay for their costly care. Miller’s analysis found the total cost to the government for Medicaid and other general medical care was $1.2 billion nationally.

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com