Monday, November 5, 2007

Tragic Realities

The numbers tell the story of the federal government's continuing failures of Hurricane Katrina survivors. Instead of dropping as experts would expect, the percentage of Katrina survivors suffering mental illnesses has risen significantly.

As Newhouse News Service reported, Harvard University's Dr. Ronald Kessler said just 10.9 percent of survivors reported serious mental illness six months after the storm. But just before the second anniversary, the percentage was 14 percent.

Could there be any clearer sign that we are failing a whole region of this country in a time of need? Well, yes. Kessler's testimony to a Senate subcommittee noted that most of the increase in mental health issues had come from storm-ravaged areas outside New Orleans. In the city, in fact, the upward change was slight.

It would be easy to lay all of this on the Bush administration, especially since it has been trying to rewrite the Katrina history to escape most blame. But Congress has co-equal responsibilities to find funding, even in the midst of war, which matches the sterling volunteer efforts of Americans to help Katrina survivors.

At the first anniversary, Kessler and colleagues found Katrina survivors showing remarkable resiliency and communal optimism. But he told The Boston Globe at the time: "What if things aren't better a year from now? Those are the sort of nagging concerns that we have." Nagging concerns have turned into tragic realities.