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Washington, D.C.—The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has called on Kenneth Feinberg, the independent claims administrator for the $20 billion relief fund created by BP Oil Company, to cover mental health needs resulting from the company's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In comments before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21, Feinberg said that the fund is not likely to pay damages for mental illness and distress caused by the spill unless a "physical injury" is also present.
In an August 10 letter to Feinberg, NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick said the statement is "incompatible with modern scientific knowledge of mental illness and the impact of traumatic events."
"Denial of a class of individuals with medical disorders affecting the brain from compensation that is available to those with medical disorders affecting other organs of the body would be neither fair nor equitable."
In a July 15 letter to BP, NAMI blasted the company for ignoring appeals by Louisiana, for $10 million to help fund mental health care in communities affected by the spill. Similar requests have been made by Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.
On July 9, Louisiana advised the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that it was encountering "increases in anxiety, depression, stress, grief, excessive and earlier drinking and suicide ideation." A meeting of the Institute of Medicine in New Orleans also identified mental health issues as the priority health concern from the disaster.
Noting the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which greatly strained state mental health care systems in the Gulf region, NAMI advised Feinberg that states are "ill-prepared to divert already scarce mental health dollars from existing services for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other serious mental illnesses."
Denying compensation to individual victims experiencing serious psychiatric symptoms would be an "injustice," Fitzpatrick wrote.
NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization, representing individuals and families affected by serious mental illness. Founded in 1979, NAMI has affiliates in every state and in more than 1,100 local communities, engaged in support, education and advocacy.