- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — With the first anniversary of the mass shootings just two months away and the campus rattled by the recent rampage at another college, Virginia Tech administrators want answers from the federal government about funding to help their community cope with the aftermath.

Officials at the Blacksburg school hope to speak by telephone sometime this week with Department of Justice staffers handling their request for nearly $6 million in federal emergency assistance funding. The department oversees counterterrorism and emergency assistance program grants through its Office for Victims of Crime.

Assistant Provost Ellen Plummer, who also serves as deputy director of the university’s office of recovery and support, filed the grant proposal in September and said the federal government has not communicated sufficiently since then.

Miss Plummer said the need for counseling and other services is growing in the months after the April 16 shootings that left 33 persons dead, and anxiety in Blacksburg — on and off campus — has spiked after a similar shooting Thursday at Northern Illinois University.

“It’s a sense of powerlessness and a sense of reliving what occurred,” Miss Plummer said yesterday. “It’s a dramatic reminder of this horrific, unbelievable mass homicide that occurred on our campus. It’s unfathomable sometimes.”

Miss Plummer said she would be satisfied if the Office for Victims of Crime would tell her that money is unavailable for some of what Virginia Tech has requested. She said federal officials have been vague on where the proposal stands and haven’t answered some of her e-mails.

“I understand government isn’t a panacea,” she said, adding that she is looking for guidance as much as anything else. “I would love to get direction. Our hope would be that we could communicate with the OVC and get a sense of what their limitations are.”

Michelle Person, a spokeswoman with the Department of Justice, told the Roanoke Times that the department does not discuss grants before they are awarded and would not respond to school officials’ comments about the process.

The Office for Victims of Crime recently sent Virginia Tech a notice indicating that it is likely the university will receive $350,959 in funding for three existing positions for its Office of Recovery and Support.

Other requests in the grant include the creation of a resource center. Miss Plummer envisions it as a center for trauma education that would focus on needs of faculty and staff but would be a place where anyone in the campus community could go for private counseling, guidance or group gatherings.

She said what Virginia Tech needs most is more people in the mental health field as more students, staff and area residents show symptoms of trauma surfacing since the April 16 shootings.

Miss Plummer said counselors are seeing more problems with sleep, concentration, distraction and hypervigilance — classic expressions of trauma and stress.

She emphasized that it is good for people to reach out and not stifle anxiety that is surfacing.

Miss Plummer said mental health professionals in Blacksburg and surrounding counties are having difficulty keeping up with the growing demand for help.

“We are maxed out,” she said, referring to resources both on and off campus.

“We need more people to help cope with burnout. Money isn’t everything, but it helps. We need some reinforcements.”

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