This week, Congress votes on Mental Health Reform. It’s a long story but Anthony Hernandez (who I interviewed in this Huffington Post article about his nine failed attempts to get his son psychiatric help and his son’s subsequent violent attacks on him and his wife) asked for my help last December in passing a mental health reform bill that had been sitting in Congress for two years. The bipartisan bill, in its original form, was written by Congressman Tim Murphy (R) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D). Murphy is Congress’ only clinical psychologist and Johnson is a psychiatric nurse. A few weeks after I wrote my June 13, 2016 HuffPost article on people who have testified before Congress in favor of mental health reform–people like Joy Torres who has paranoid schizophrenia or people like Laura Pogliano who lost family members to paranoid schizophrenia–the bill passed markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A few weeks later in July, a modified version of the bill passed the House of Representatives 422 to 2.
On a personal note, this past year, working with Anthony, Laura, and meeting so many other parents like them has taught me about the meaning of unconditional love. We would not have gotten this far if not for the unconditional love of parents who often have to battle bureaucratic red tape and financial obstacles just to get their children decent help. I won’t forget what they have taught me.
The past few months, advocates have been tirelessly working to pass mental health reform. If you’d like to be involved, you can call!
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Yesterday evening, members of Congress announced that an agreement had been reached on a healthcare reform package, with votes scheduled for next week.We are pleased that the package incorporates the provisions of both of our highest legislative priorities — Representative Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and Senator John Cornyn’s Mental Health and Safe Communities Act!By taking up both bills, Congress is making huge changes in our nation’s focus on those with the most severe mental illness. Among many other important provisions, this reform package will:
- Reform the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) by creating a Presidentially-appointed Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse
- Reaffirm federal support of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) by extending the federal AOT program, greatly increasing its authorization and authorizing its use within DOJ programs
- Demand accountability for communication failures associated with HIPAA, by requiring new guidance to be issued to ensure that family members and caregivers are part of the treatment process
- Support policy innovation by establishing the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory
- Provide vital new tools for law enforcement, including grants for crisis intervention teams, federal mental health courts, and the creation of a National Criminal Justice and Mental Health Training Center
- Increase our understanding of the costs of criminalizing mental illness by requiring the Comptroller to detail the federal, state and local costs of imprisonment for individuals with serious mental illness, including the number and types of crimes committed by mentally ill individuals
- As we recommended in our series of reports on the issue, require the Attorney General to collect and disseminate data regarding the involvement of mental illness in all homicides, as well as deaths or serious bodily injuries involving law enforcement officers.
A tremendous thanks to all of you for sharing your stories — YOU made the case for reform. We’re grateful for your tireless efforts.
We’ll keep you informed over the coming days. Watch your inbox for updates!