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South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bush’s FEMA Again Lifting Wrong Finger for Katrina’s Families

by Ana Maria

With Katrina’s 2nd anniversary a week away and eyes glued to following Hurricane Dean’s path, evidence of post-Katrina stress abounds. From short tempers and increased alcohol and drug usage to low expectations that life can ever return to even the worst of pre-Katrina days to people whispering about various friends and family members in good health but who all of a sudden die without warning. In hushed tones, they share with me their various conclusions on the cause of death.

• Katrina took away their will to live.
• The stress of post-Katrina survival got to them.
• When the insurance companies failed to own up to their financial responsibilities to pay on wind policies, it killed ‘em—they checked out.

Mental illness is double the pre-storm levels, rising numbers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and there is a surge in adults who say they're thinking of suicide. . . .

The big surprise: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which typically goes away in a year for most disaster survivors, has increased: 21% have the symptoms vs. 16% in 2006. Common symptoms include the inability to stop thinking about the hurricane, nightmares and emotional numbness.
The nation’s worst natural disaster is playing havoc with our coping mechanisms, and Bush’s FEMA is playing havoc with how they interpret the rules that should afford some much needed funding for mental health services in the Katrina-ravaged area.

An Associated Press story reported “FEMA has refused to assist the institutions that those people were referred to and it has not explained why."
"A government survey released [August 15, 2007] to USA TODAY shows no improvement in mental health from a year ago."
Maybe that’s because FEMA can’t explain the cruel and compassionless policies flowing out of a “you’re on your own” Bush White House philosophy. What is Bush to do? Admit that he only believes in spending taxpayer money on bloated contracts with his friends? Fat chance. Instead, he and his ilk have surrounded themselves with similar conscious-free types whose mission seems to be to spend the least amount as possible when it comes to helping Americans.

FEMA ran its Project Recovery Program as a referral service only, and chose not to provide funding for mental health professionals to counsel Americans temporarily going through this horrific disaster. Not exactly helpful, particularly when Katrina displaced the area’s mental health professionals—just as it has so many others in the hurricane’s aftermath.

This is crazy—then again, so much that the Bush Administration has done is pure madness. Yes, pure madness. FEMA does fund short-term crisis counseling after disasters. That’s right. FEMA has done so for 25 years.
The Crisis Counseling Program [has] been supported in the past twenty-five years by the Federal government, provides for short-term interventions with individuals and groups experiencing psychological sequelae from Presidentially-declared disasters.
Well, if that don’t beat all. Here’s an excerpt from a U.S. Government agency website— Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides supplemental funding to States for short-term crisis counseling projects to assist survivors/victims of Presidentially declared major disasters. FEMA supplements, but does not supplant, mental health services traditionally provided by State and local mental health agencies. The Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (commonly referred to as the Crisis Counseling Program) was first authorized by the U.S. Congress under the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-288) and later modified by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-707). FEMA is responsible for administering the disaster assistance programs of the Stafford Act, including Federal assistance for crisis.

A major disaster, as defined by the Stafford Act, is any natural catastrophe, or regardless of cause, any fire, flood, or explosion, which in the determination of the President causes damage of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance to supplement efforts and available resources of States, local government, and disaster relief organizations in alleviating the damage, loss, hardship, or suffering caused by the disaster.
So there we have it. FEMA pays for mental health care crisis counseling, but the Bush Administration is apparently playing politics with the tax dollars that could be and should be helping Katrina’s Americans cope with the myriad of Katrina-related mental health problems.

How cruel. How categorically cruel for the Bush Administration to deny access to federal funding when the money can be used for such a critical service for its people. AND this isn’t exactly breaking new ground as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website explains that disaster crisis counseling programs are part and parcel of what it provides.
Disaster Crisis Counseling Programs are a departure from traditional mental health practice in many ways. The program is designed to address incident specific stress reactions, rather than ongoing or developmental mental health needs (CMHS, 1994). Programs must be structured and implemented according to Federally established guidelines and for a specific period. Emphasis is on serving individuals, families, and groups of people - all of whom share a devastating event that most likely changed the face of their entire community.
Yet, Bush’s FEMA denies funding for this critical service for Katrina’s Americans. This is yet another example of the Bush Administration’s cruel and compassionless core values. Bush talks compassion and walks cruelty. And the impact of Bush’s FEMA policy is evidenced everywhere.

Whether we are adults or children. Katrina has negatively impacted our collective mental health. In Trauma shapes Katrina's kids, USA Today wrote
New Orleans pediatrician Corey Hebert dreads the rainy weeks when he knows he'll face about 20 sobbing, screaming children in full-blown panic attacks.

"They can't be calmed because they're terrified another hurricane is coming," he says. Parents bring them in because there are no therapists around.
In Mississippi, FEMA is taking away $4.5 million of federal dollars that could be used for counseling any aged survivor trying to cope with what many call post-Katrina syndrome. Again, the U.S. government agency website stated
The Crisis Counseling Program is unique in comparison to the mix of Federal programs made available through a Presidential disaster declaration. It is the one program for which virtually anyone qualifies and where the person affected by disaster does not have to recall numbers, estimate damages, or otherwise justify need. The program provides primary assistance in dealing with the emotional sequelae to disaster.
The only thing we’ll have to watch out for is the Bush Administration demanding that the counseling be laced with religious overtones or allowing the federal dollars to go to unqualified professionals, particularly those who support Bush’s desire to mix his religious beliefs with our very secular government. He’ll have us praying his way.

Believe me, down here everyone is praying. The old saying “pray to God and row to shore” has us asking for help with the rowing part, not the praying part.

Good Lord! If folks want religion and government intertwined, they can move to Iran or Saudi Arabia where government and religion are laced together. Don’t care for that? How’s about Afghanistan where the pathetic fools called the Taliban foist their own ignorant macho cruelty upon its prey all under the veil of “religion.” Don’t like the Middle Eastern example? How’s about reviewing recent history in Ireland with two factions of Christianity did its gut level best to shove its own views on the other in rather violent fashion. A rather bloody mess came about, to say the least.

Religion and government don’t mix well. That’s the reason the founders of our nation placed Freedom OF Religion as part of our Constitution’s First Amendment. Freedom of . . . and its implied Freedom FROM. Remember, the founders were often those who had fled Britain’s King George’s religious tyranny. Talk about history repeating itself!

The point here is two-fold. First, our own federal government already has long established post-disaster crisis counseling programs specifically for Katrina-type scenarios. Secondly, we need to be aware of Bush’s propensity to act in a way that laces religion with government—a deadly combination and fundamentally anti-American.

What is beautifully American, however, is the belief that we can make life better for ourselves, our families, our communities, and for others. As Americans, we hold the belief that a new day brings new possibilities to alleviate for ourselves and the next generation the challenges we face today.

Bush and his White House are fundamentally different human beings than the people I run across throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast and throughout the Katrina-ravaged region who are needlessly suffering at the Administration’s hands. With the sunny optimistic outlook that pegs us as true blue Americans, folks in Katrina Land are trying to fix the problem at hand that Bush’s FEMA has created through failing to offer to our people the mental health services needed.

However, in typical American fashion, folks around here are trying to ensure that FEMA does not force other Americans to suffer needlessly as it has forced Katrina’s survivors to suffer. Ed LeGrand, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, “said he was concerned FEMA's rigid interpretation would affect future disaster recovery programs.”
"I did want to set the stage where if there was a significant disaster elsewhere then maybe the feds would be a little more liberal in how they allow the states use those (mental health) funds in the future."
Throughout the Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast region, folks here fight with the Bush's FEMA and Bush's corporate insurance supporters to get all of them to do right. As they fight, these hard-working Americans who’ve been through hell and back do so not only for themselves and their communities, but also to prevent another town, another family from having to experience this horrific, and unnecessary, hardship.

Lifting a finger to help
While the Bush Administration continues to lift the wrong finger to Katrina’s families, businesses, and communities, the rest of America—that would be you and me—can lift a real finger to provide real help. We can help this situation through letting our fingers do the walking and our mouths do a bit of talking. Yes ma’am and yes sir! You know what that means. It’s political hell raising time! Wooohooo!

FEMA’s Director needs our wise counsel to fund professional counselors in the same way the agency has done after other disasters over the last 25 years. So, let’s give him a piece of our mind and gain a peace of mind for ourselves knowing that today, we helped to make a difference in the Katrina recovery.

Today's political hell raising acivity involves one phone call to FEMA Director Paulison to tell him that FEMA must fund mental health services for the entire Katrina-ravaged region from New Orleans and its surrounding areas across the Mississippi Gulf Coast region and on over to Bayou LeBatre, Alabama.

Lifting our fingers this way can help to outweigh the only finger Bush and his gang seem to lift with any regularity to Americans whether in the Katrina-ravaged region or not. This kind of deliberate, targeted political hell raising is one way to simultaneously lift our own finger to the Bush Administration while helping to create the momentum needed to get the funding we need for mental health services here in Katrina Land. We do this, and things will shift positively for us. On that, I have total faith.

Related articles
Trauma shapes Katrina's kids USA Today 8.16.07
Katrina victims struggle mentally USA Today 8.16.07

Gulf Coast kids of every class affected by Katrina USA Today 8.16.07

Katrina rips up the few roots foster kids had USA Today 8.16.07

Portrait of a Troubled Teen Sun Herald 8.11.07

FEMA takes back $4.5M Mspi wanted for mental health facilities Sun Herald 8.11.07


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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I stayed during Katrina. (Bay Saint Louis) The physical impact of storm was not the issue that bothered me as much as the aftermath. The slow recovery process, the insurance debacle, FEMA, and the lack of contractors have all put much stress on our lives.
Most physicians in this area from New Orleans to Biloxi just say get over it and prescribe little pills; but it takes more than that. I do not see any help for people who suffer from PTSD. I agree with your asseemenmt. I was born in the Bay and have no plans to leave.

Ana Maria said...

Hello fellow Bay Rat!

Thank you so very much for honoring me with both reading and then commenting on my piece. You are right that so many suffer from PTSD and, perhaps with help around the country, we can get Bush's FEMA to let go of the federal money to fund this much needed program that has been available to other parts of the country over the last 25 years.

Perhaps, too, you and I shall meet up here in the Bay.

Once again, thanks!

-am