Feb 22, 2023 - News

Boston bombing survivors talk struggles finding mental health help

Marathon bombing survivor Manya Chylinski walks outside in a black coat and blue scarf. She inspired Rep. Pressley to change the law over what mental health funding governments get after disasters.

A 2017 photo of Boston marathon bombing survivor Manya Chylinski. Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing learned the hard way that mental health treatment is hard to come by in the aftermath of a disaster.

  • A new law could change that.

Why it matters: Boston rallied around maimed survivors, first responders and everyone affected by the domestic terrorist attack. But that didn’t prevent survivors with injuries that aren’t visible, like traumatic brain injuries or PTSD, from being turned away.

How it works: The new law, which Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley proposed and President Biden signed in December, requires FEMA to offer mental health funding to states, territories and tribes after an emergency declaration. The law previously only required such funding after a major disaster declaration.

  • It closes a loophole that meant survivors of more than 4,000 hurricanes, earthquakes and attacks – including the Boston marathon bombing — didn’t qualify for FEMA’s nine months of mental health funding.

What they’re saying: “I felt that having mental health wounds didn’t count, and people weren’t thinking about it in the big picture of the response,” said Manya Chylinski, a Marathon bombing survivor who Pressley says inspired her to file the bill.

Driving the news: A handful of survivors joined Pressley and other elected officials Tuesday at the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center to discuss the barriers they faced as they sought help after the attack.

💬 Takeaways

From Chylinski: City and state officials should prioritize mental health the way they do physical health.

  • Chylinski said she was turned away from the Boston Marathon victim compensation fund and other resources that focused on the physically injured. She only found help after the Red Cross directed her to the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance.

From Melinda Arredondo: Make disaster recovery resources available in multiple languages and in communities of color.

  • Arredondo worked at Upham’s Corner Health Center at the time of the bombing, and says officials did not share information or resources with residents who spoke Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole and other languages.
  • Arredondo, whose husband Carlos emerged as a hero after the bombing, says they suffered permanent hearing loss and PTSD, but were repeatedly turned away from help.
  • They finally got help processing the trauma of the bombing, and the loss of their son Alexander after he joined the Marine Corps, when they went to Home Base.

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