From The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana)

Help coming for disabled Katrina survivors

OPINION

By Marcie Roth

Media coverage of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, especially in terms of the toll in human suffering, was massive and commendable. Even reports about stranded pets was extensive and hopefully helpful in efforts to save as many as possible. Yet with all this coverage, the story about the enormous stress suffered by one segment of the population in Louisiana and the other Gulf Coast states somehow went hidden under the radar screen: the story of people with severe disabilities.

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has estimated there are 1 million people with disabilities who were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina alone. It is estimated at least 10 percent, or 100,000, were people with significant disabilities, and at least 2 percent, or 20,000, were those with the most significant disabilities. A great need exists to locate these people, and to provide them with assistance in the recovering of their independence.

This is about to start happening with a gift of a half million dollars just given to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. The fund, created by philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert Klein and his wife, Ita, has been named The Brian Joseph McCloskey Katrina Survivors with Disabilities Fund. Klein is the CEO of Safeguard Properties Inc., which has been providing support to homeowners and the mortgage industry in Louisiana and the Gulf States affected by Katrina.

The gift is the NSCIA's largest single gift to date, and will begin the process of helping individuals with spinal cord injuries recover to a stable existence once again.

Another portion of the fund will be used to identify the thousands more individuals with the most significant disabilities who have gone as yet undetected under the radar screen. Yet another portion of the money needs to go into the creation of advocacy campaigns to inspire additional support from the business and philanthropic communities, to allow the fund to reach out and touch the largest of this number possible.

The goals of the Brian McCloskey Fund are to: provide direct assistance with down payments, deposits and where other resources are not available, cash to rebuild homes; provide cash to replace durable medical equipment not covered by private insurers, Medicaid or Medicare; assist in furnishing homes and replacing items that will not be covered through FEMA; replace vehicles with wheelchair lifts and/or hand-controls for those who have lost them; and create advocacy programs to encourage new public policy initiatives and additional support for the fund.

The McCloskey Fund will go to work right away in helping people like Charles, from New Orleans. He has been quadriplegic since age 14. He has a very successful job, working with local, state and federal agencies. Charles evacuated to a relative's home several hours north of New Orleans and three hours from any health care systems. He is staying in a home that is inaccessible and he has not been able to bathe since Aug. 28.

There are at least 12 "Charles" of whom we are currently aware. With the Brian McCloskey Fund, help is on the way.

Marcie Roth is CEO of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (www.spinalcord.com) based in Bethesda, Md.