- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu opened a hearing Tuesday on disaster recovery by praising a series of reports in The Washington Times this week that exposed the mental health crisis gripping post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

Mrs. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on disaster recovery, said the “particularly insightful articles” shed light on the silent epidemic of mental illness left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Times’ three-part series that began Monday examined the extent of the mental health crisis, the toll it has taken on the city’s overwhelmed health care system and the search for solutions.

The senator, who for years has been at the forefront of the fight for federal aid for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast and for better planning for future disasters, said it was fortuitous that the expose coincided with Tuesday’s subcommittee hearing entitled “Focusing on Children in Disasters: Evacuation Planning and Mental Health Recovery.”

The hearing explored the needs of children before, during and after a disaster. The panel examined the level of planning and support that exists to move children out of harm’s way and to help them recover from the trauma of a disaster.

Studies show children are disproportionately affected by such incidents and suffer a higher rate of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in their aftermath, according to the subcommittee.

Prior to the hearing, Mrs. Landrieu said in an e-mail that she has labored since the devastating August 2005 hurricane to “combat the stress-induced hardships” that plague New Orleans and communities across the Gulf Coast — many of which were explored in The Times’ series.

Her efforts include working to expand the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s crisis-counseling program and addressing work force shortages in Louisiana’s health care system.

“People in our state have seen their homes destroyed, whole neighborhoods demolished and places of worship lost. Four years later, while physical recovery is well under way, deep scars remain,” she said.

Noting that a recent Government Accountability Office report was prepared at her request, Mrs. Landrieu detailed persistent barriers to mental health services for children in communities struck by disaster.

“Getting survivors of catastrophic disasters the help they need is going to take better strategies, coordination and commitment from a variety of federal, state and local agencies,” she said.