Franklin James Cook

Several Mental Health Champions Missing from 111th Congress

In Advocacy, Policy on January 2, 2009 at 1:58 pm

ORIGINAL REPORT — In the edition of Psychiatric News published online today, reporter Rich Daly highlights the loss of mental health champions in the 111th Congress, noting that “the departure of several of Capitol Hill’s strongest mental health advocates will be felt by APA [American Psychiatric Association] and other like-minded advocates when the new Congress convenes later this month.”

Several longstanding mental health advocates retired at the end of the 110th Congress, including Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), while Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) lost his bid for reelection … In 2007 Ramstad and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) embarked on a nationwide tour to highlight the importance of mental health insurance parity that used a series of field hearings to galvanize support for legislative action … Domenici’s accomplishments include extensive leadership on mental health parity, as well as legislation to fund more mental health services for public school children … Smith is most known for sponsoring the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, to create screening programs to identify and help youth at risk for suicide.

Smith and his wife Sharon’s son Garrett–who is memorialized through the legislation Sen. Smith sponsored–died by suicide in 2003 when he was 21 years old. The Smiths have provided leadership through avenues such as Sharon Smith’s service on the board of directors of the Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN USA), and they have gained the respect and admiration of the national suicide prevention community. It is widely hoped among suicide prevention proponents and survivors of suicide loss that their influence will continue to be seen and felt even though they no longer represent Oregon in the U.S. Senate.

The report in the Psychiatric News also points to some of the strong proponents of mental health care who remain in Congress, including

[Rep. Patrick] Kennedy and his father, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) … [who] has … dropped his chairmanship of the powerful Judiciary Committee to focus full time on health care reform … Continued support also is expected from … Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) the House majority leader; and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader. Reid, who lost his father to suicide, and the other Democratic leaders were supportive of a mental health parity law and a law to end Medicare’s discriminatory copayments for outpatient mental health care.

And several new members of Congress are expected to add their energies to advancing the cause of improved mental health care in America:

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), a former New York State Assembly member who was a sponsor of New York’s mental health parity law, “Timothy’s Law,” enacted in December 2006.

Rep. Jon Adler (D-N.J.), supported several issues of concern to APA and other mental health advocates as a state senator including a state mental health parity bill, youth suicide prevention programs, and postpartum depression awareness campaigns.

[The abridged URL for this post is  http://tinyurl.com/MHChampions .]

[Related SPNAC post: “Suicide Prevention Champion Not Re-elected To Senate” ]

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