Area copes with mental anguish over attacks

In office buildings, schools and in the private homes of victims, the ripple effects of the Sept. 11 Pentagon attack are not expected to go away as the days and months wear on.

Families that lost loved ones need financial, legal and emotional support, rising unemployment is straining aid programs, and indirect victims like neighbors and children need help coping.

In addition to the destruction at the Pentagon, approximately 25,000 people have lost their jobs in Northern Virginia as a result of the attack and the continuing economic slowdown, and the effect of that will be tremendous, as well, said Prince William United Way Director Lucy Beauchamp.

But she said local charities and nonprofit agencies are prepared. And the community is responding in force to help victims and each other deal with the aftermath of the Pentagon attack and ensuing economic slowdown.

“What you saw as a disaster relief effort after the plane hit the Pentagon was only the tip of the iceberg,” Beauchamp said.

Last week, the first phase of $834,000 in assistance from the D.C. areas United Way September 11th Fund went out to agencies mobilized to directly help victims of the attacks, providing $200,000 to both the Salvation Army and USO that fed, counseled and lodged victims.

The United Way has received $2 million in donations so far and will begin looking at second-phase grants to programs for indirect victims in two weeks, said spokesman Tony De Cristofaro.

A top issue for those dealing with the aftermath are mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“Most charities … will expect this to really start escalating because in most events when you have a major tragedy in the community, the emotional toll really begins peaking 3 to 6 months after,” said Mary Agee, executive director of Northern Virginia Family Service.

Still, the areas response, based on lessons learned following the Oklahoma City bombing, may be going into uncharted territory.

“The effects of Oklahoma City [were] finite,” said Joe Roche, director of the Inova Employee Assistance program in Fairfax that contracts counseling services to 165 companies. “But the events of Sept. 11, [if they are tied] with this anthrax thing, theres no end in sight. So theres a lot of uncertainty.”


At Graham Park Middle School in Triangle on Thursday, where a good number of students are children of military parents, Principal Rae Darlington was trying to help her students understand the events going on in the world.

“This is a short assembly,” Darlington said. “Theres not a lot of talking to do. Theres a lot of living to do.”

The Quantico Marine Corps Base honor guard presented the colors, and the 1,000-plus students were respectful, the loudest noise being a series of “Shhhs” from students when they stood to sing the national anthem.

“I just think it was an act of cruelty. It was someone being selfish,” said eighth-grader Alix Grimm of Montclair, afterward.

Alixs father worked in the Pentagon office that was destroyed, but he was at Fort Belvoir when the attack occurred. The 13-year-old said she cant sleep some nights.

“A lot of times I hear planes flying, I get scared,” said eighth-grader Layne Herbots, 13, also of Montclair.

Both students have heard about anthrax, and mention smallpox as another threat. “My mom made me stop watching TV. I had already been crying,” Alix said.

To do something positive like many other area schools, Cougar Elementary School in Manassas Park is answering President Bushs call to have students give a dollar to help the children in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, seven Cougar second-grade classes worked on red, white and blue friendship bracelets being sold for a dollar each.

“If I get tired, its OK. I am working to help others,” said Brian McDonald, 7, as he worked on one of 1,300 bracelets on order by students and parents. “Its nice for us to help the Afghans,” said Ashley Rollison, 7.

The Securing Emergency Resources Through Volunteer Efforts Inc. food bank in Manassas has seen a surge of people coming in since Sept. 11 from the airlines and the food service industry that supports them, hotel and hospitality workers and information technology workers affected by the recession, said case worker Marla Browne.

“Ive had people coming in three-piece suits just laid off. [Information technology] jobs,” she said.

In businesses around the D.C. area, Roche said he has seen people still afraid to fly or open mail. Businesses are taking hits from a slowing economy.


Beauchamp says people have become sick of her saying it, but now they understand what she means by, “Prince William takes care of its own.”

Churches, faith-based organizations, businesses, individuals and families have all been helping since Sept. 11, she said.

When the Action in the Community Through Service food bank in Dumfries ran out of food in September, the community responded like the county government human resources department that held a picnic food drive and filled its shelves, she said.

A lot of contributors are going unsung, she said. Prince William and Manassas sent police to Arlington after the attack to help monitor the Pentagon around the clock. The county fire department sent personnel to Fairfax to man stations as its specialized units conducted search-and-rescue operations at the Pentagon.

For direct victims, one small consolation has been the quick identification of a majority of the bodies at the Pentagon, said Fort Belvoir soldier and family support officer Jo Glass, making the wait for funeral services much less than what had been predicted to take months.
The militarys center in Crystal City set up for victims will close Nov. 1 and its services taken over by military family service centers around the area, she said. Issues such as death benefits and insurance have been taken care of, she said.

“The thing of it is, there is no one central area that [the ripple effects are] going through. Weve all had small pieces of it,” Glass said. “Theyre not congregated groups. Were not like Norfolk where you have a whole ship affected.”

Military and civilian workers are monitoring peers who may not be dealing emotionally with the attack, she said.

“In every neighborhood that you go to in this area, you will find a military family … All of us who know people who were working in there are keeping an eye out for that kind of thing, so we can help them and guide them,” she said.

“I dont know what was in the back of everyones mind who did this deed … but if they thought they were going to frighten us and splinter the community, they got the exact opposite result,” Glass said. “Ive seen more people reach out and help each other, people that they dont know.”

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

Similar Posts