Franklin James Cook

Montana Advocate Will Be Obama’s Guest at Inauguration

In Advocacy, Grief, Prevention on January 9, 2009 at 9:40 am

ORIGINAL STORY — Reporter Jennifer McKee writes in the Billings Gazette that a Helena, Mont., mental health advocate will be attending Barack Obama’s inauguration as the new U.S. president’s guest.

[Matt Kuntz], who dedicated himself to helping the mentally ill after his stepbrother committed suicide upon returning home from combat, has been picked to be one of 18 ‘everyday Americans’ to celebrate inauguration with President-elect Barack Obama. [They] … will take the train with Obama to Baltimore for a speech, then head off to Delaware to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his family for a final jaunt to Washington, D.C.

Kuntz, who is now head of the Montana office of the National Alliance on Mental Illness,

was working as a lawyer in Helena in spring 2007 when his step-brother Chris Dana, a Montana National Guard soldier, committed suicide after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following his tour of duty in Iraq.

That tragedy compelled Kuntz and Dana’s parents to begin working for better screening for returning soldiers. Eventually … the Montana National Guard adopted a screening program that leads the country when it comes to making sure returning soldiers don’t fall through the cracks.

Kuntz, a former Army officer himself, met Obama briefly this fall during a campaign stop in Billings.

Kuntz said he was impressed then that Obama seemed to really care about the issue of mental-health help for returning soldiers. Obama told Kuntz he wanted to take the Montana Guard’s program nationwide.

“The president-elect realizes that Montana is really leading the country on this issue,” Kuntz said. “This was done entirely by the people of Montana. They demanded better treatment.”

A brief news story from a local television station can be viewed here.

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

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