A Louisiana State University program that provides mental health services for children traumatized by Hurricane Katrina faces cutbacks as a result of the Bush administration's rejection of a $400,000 grant application, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. The move comes despite a congressional directive that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should give "high priority" to grants for programs that treat hurricane victims.

The Louisiana Rural Trauma Services Center, which operates out of the LSU Health Sciences Center, initially received a four-year federal grant in 2003. The program sends mental health professionals into schools, courts and Head Start programs in Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes to evaluate children for signs of mental illness and provide treatment, and it also trains school workers to recognize symptoms of mental illness.

The center's fiscal year 2006 grant application specified that the money was being used to serve "children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events in Louisiana."

Program Co-Director Dr. Howard Osofsky learned the application had been rejected last last month, according to the Times-Picayune. Without those funds, the program will have to be cut back "considerably," he said -- and that could be devastating:

"The children are the most traumatized in the United States," said Howard Osofsky, chairman of the psychiatry department at LSU Health Sciences Center. "If we are going to prevent the scars and give them the best chance to succeed, they really need these services."

Studies have found that children whose lives were directly affected by Hurricane Katrina suffered lingering psychological stress. A survey of displaced children in the New Orleans area conducted by the LSU Health Sciences Center found that 54 percent of the children surveyed experienced symptoms that put them in need of further mental health care, while screening data collected from storm-displaced children returning to New Orleans and St. Bernard parishes indicated that over 31 percent reported clinically significant symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) told the paper that when the fiscal 2008 HHS spending bill comes to the Senate floor this week as expected, she plans to offer an amendment that would direct $400,000 in grant money to the jeopardized program.