Sterilized: What Virginia and Nazi Germany Had in Common

Virginia would be the second U.S. state to offer payments to sterilization victims.

Lewis Reynolds, left, was sterilized at what is now known as the Central Virginia Training Center in Madison Heights, Va., when he was a teenager. Sarah Wiley, right, was sterilized at the same facility when she was 23.

Lewis Reynolds, left, was sterilized at what is now known as the Central Virginia Training Center in Madison Heights, Va., when he was a teenager. Sarah Wiley, right, was sterilized at the same facility when she was 23.

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"We must remember the commonwealth's past mistakes in order to prevent them from recurring," Warner said.

Eleven years later in 2013, North Carolina became the first state to pass a law offering restitution to victims, approving $10 million to be set aside for payments expected to begin in 2015. Bold says less than 200 people have come forward for restitution so far, and he'd be surprised if Virginia found 100 eligible individuals.

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The approval in North Carolina came after a decade-long push, Lombardo says. Prospects for the Virginia bill, in only its second year, remain uncertain after legislators last year opted not to move forward with it.

Del. John O'Bannon, a Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee – to which the bill has been referred – did not return a call seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Del. Scott Garrett, a GOP member of the committee whose district includes part of Lynchburg, says Garrett is waiting to get more information about the bill, since aspects may be different from last year's version.

Both delegates have expressed reservations about the restitution issue in the past.

"It's very hard right now to find anybody who will applaud the fact that years ago people were sterilized ... They'll all say, 'Yeah, that was terrible, we shouldn't have done it,'" Lombardo says. "Then you say, 'Well, should we do anything about it now?' And they'll say, 'No, we don't have enough money.'"

Brian Coy, a spokesman for newly elected Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, says the Democrat is "certainly aware" of the sterilization issue, and any bill that made it to the governor's desk would receive his full attention. Coy did not say whether McAuliffe supports the restitution effort.

"If the General Assembly passes the legislation changing our approach, he will give it very careful evaluation at that time," Coy says.

Still, advocates for the bill hope to build on what they see as increased momentum.

"This is a big deal, if we can get this through," Hope says. "It's certainly big to a lot of those people that are affected, but it's big on the commonwealth. And I'm just optimistic this is the year." 

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  • Correction 01/28/14: The former name of the Central Virginia Training Center was misidentified in the photo caption.