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U.S.: Three Years Later, 9/11 Relief Groups Reevaluating Missions, While Study Of Terrorism On The Rise

(file photo) In the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001, the main goal of counselors working with people affected by the terrorist attacks was to deal with severe psychological trauma. Later, counseling services and financial assistance took over as their main concerns. Now, some of these post-9/11 relief organizations, having achieved many of their goals, are winding down their operations, while others are positioning themselves to deal with the longer-term effects of the tragedy. The events of 11 September also have spurred interest in the field of terrorism study. In the last three years, more than 100 colleges and universities in the United States have introduced new programs or reevaluated existing studies in disaster management.

New York, 9 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The September 11th Fund -- one of the most successful charities in history -- has announced that it expects to close its physical operation by December.

The fund was created to help the victims, families, and communities affected by the devastating terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, which killed some 3,000 people. As of 1 April 2004, the fund had collected $537 million in donations and interest and awarded more than $500 million in grants. The fund says 100,000 people have benefited from its financial assistance, more than 14,000 people are receiving health care, and 6,000 are enrolled for mental-health benefits.

Carol Kellermann is the executive director and chief operating officer of the September 11th Fund. She told RFE/RL that the fund's initial goals have been achieved, but that there is still much work to be done. "The main issue that still remains three years later is the mental-health issue," she said. "People were traumatized, and many of them still are having trouble going back to normal life, or they were doing fine and now, later, something happens that triggers their feelings of insecurity -- people have trouble sleeping, people have trouble going on the subway, they have family problems."

She said psychologists have established that it takes years to heal from such major trauma or for people affected to even recognize they have psychological problems. One of the fund's areas of focus is providing financial help to those affected by the tragedy who need mental health care but who don't have insurance to cover the cost of such treatment.

Though there have been reports that some people tried to take advantage of the post-9/11 donations, Kellermann said fraud affected less than half of 1 percent of the fund's overall budget. "The amount of fraud that's been detected in the programs to help people from September 11 is surprisingly low," she said. "And you read about them when they happen because they are so horrible. People are appalled that someone would try to take advantage. We have not seen very much fraud."

While the September 11th Fund will no longer have offices after the end of this year, there will be supervision in place to ensure that remaining funds are spent in accordance with existing grant agreements.

Safe Horizon is another relief institution that has been active in the aftermath of 9/11. It is one of the largest victim-assistance, -advocacy, and violence-prevention organizations in New York, with more than 80 programs throughout the city's five boroughs and a staff of 900. Safe Horizon also operates a toll-free, 24-hour hot line to assist people affected by the 11 September attacks. The hot line provides information and referrals to benefits and assistance programs, as well as immediate crisis support.

Christy Gibney Carey, a senior director at Safe Horizon, said the group has responded to more than 200,000 calls to the 9/11 hot line. "We're really seeing a lot of family members reaching out more for counseling services now than they were earlier on. Various people have different thoughts about why that is, but it's really something that I think is going to be ongoing need and continue to rise. We've kind of learned that a little bit from talking with people from Oklahoma City, and they said that it was a few years out from the bombing of Oklahoma City when they really started to see a rise in request for counseling. So it's a challenge in that sense of, if someone hasn't talked about this and three years later, this is the first time they are reaching out, that can be a bit of a challenge," Carey said.
"So it's less about immediately getting a check into someone's hand and dealing with financial crises -- that's still a little part of it -- but it's a little bit more about long-term access to services and really helping clients get back on the road to self-sufficiency."

While the group's early work was mostly financial assistance and crisis management, Carey said that now, three years after the event, their goal is to help people return to normal lives. "Early on, it was very focused on financial assistance and dealing with the immediate crisis. Whereas, as time went by and as time has gone by, we're doing more long-term case management services. So it's less about immediately getting a check into someone's hand and dealing with financial crises -- that's still a little part of it -- but it's a little bit more about long-term access to services and really helping clients get back on the road to self-sufficiency," Carey said.

Another legacy of the 9/11 attacks is that colleges and universities in the United States have introduced programs focusing on terrorism and emergency management. Before 9/11, such programs focused mostly on the management of natural disasters and blackouts.

This year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has distributed more than $70 million in grants for new programs in terrorism and emergency management.

For the latest news on the U.S.-led War on Terror, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The War on Terror".