Agency takes back millions Mississippi wanted for mental health facilities

The government has taken back $4.5

million in funding left over from an expired counseling program

even though Mississippi coast officials sought the funds for local

public mental health facilities.

FEMA spokesman Eugene Brezany said government officials

interpret a rule in the Stafford Act, which governs FEMA's response

to disasters, as meaning that they will not provide or assist with

mental health treatment in any way for disaster victims.

Some Mississippi health officials said FEMA had devised a

post-disaster response to mental health issues that is less than

satisfactory. They said while it reaches out to disaster victims,

FEMA does not provide any real help because its refusal to provide


The government's Project Recovery program operated mainly as a

referral service which connected almost 400,000 people with doctors

and facilities where they could get help. FEMA has refused to

assist the institutions that those people were referred to and it

has not explained why.

Ed LeGrand, executive director of the Mississippi Department of

Mental Health, which administered Project Recovery and led the

effort to keep the leftover $4.5 million in the state, said FEMA's

initial response was more like emergency outreach work than actual


The need, however, for emergency outreach work ran out earlier

this year, LeGrand said, so they did not spend the more than $19

million allocated for it in the hope that the funds could be used

by MDMH in a way that would have a better impact.

"We could've gone ahead and extended Project Recovery,"

LeGrand said. "I wanted it to be redirected where it would have a

very purposeful and productive use."

Jeff Bennett, director of the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center, a

public treatment facility covering all of Harrison and Hancock

counties, said he has struggled with a lack of adequate funding to

keep staff and provide assistance to the uninsured and underinsured

as people with Katrina-related issues continue to flood his office.

Many of those people were referred to him by Project Recovery

workers, he said.

Kris Jones, director of disaster preparedness and recovery for

MDMH, said Project Recovery was a system largely based on a

post-Sept. 11 model.

However, unlike Hurricane Katrina, Sept. 11 did not decimate the

local mental health system, Jones said, and at the time they were

even able to get away with providing cognitive behavioral therapy

to victims, unlike the post-Katrina Gulf Coast.

LeGrand 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," LeGrand said.


Information from: The Sun Herald,