This week, several congressional committees held hearings on the U.S. mental healthcare system. The National Council congratulates our staff and members who testified at these hearings on the need for better integrated care, public education, and improvements in delivery and payment structures:
Jeannie Campbell, National Council Executive Vice President: At a hearing on gun violence held by the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, Jeannie testified on the ongoing need for improved treatment for mental health disorders among veterans and the need for better public education about the nature of mental illness and addiction. She explained to the Task Force that 30% of the 2.4 million active duty and reserve military personnel who were deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will have a mental health condition requiring treatment. Yet, recent efforts to expand treatment capacity for veterans and military service members have not been sufficient to meet the need for treatment. Jeannie thanked Representative Ron Barber (D-AZ) for introducing the Mental Health First Aid Act (HR 274). She added that in some form or fashion, most of the proposals that have been brought forward in the wake of the Newtown shooting all endorse “early detection” of mental illnesses: “The National Council strongly endorses Mental Health First Aid because – from a prevention standpoint – that is exactly what the program does.” Read Jeannie’s testimony here. View the hearing here (Jeannie’s testimony begins at 36:20).
Larry Fricks, National Council Senior Consultant: Larry was invited to speak at the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee’s January 24 hearing on “Assessing the State of America’s Mental Health System.” Larry spoke eloquently about his lived experience in recovery and the ongoing stigma and discrimination that surround behavioral health disorders. He also addressed the critical role of peer support in promoting recovery, pointing out that “peer specialists are unique in their ability to connect with other peers to ignite hope and teach skills for recovery, self-management, and promoting whole health.” He encouraged the committee to support flexible funding streams for the recovery and whole health outcomes that peer support services can deliver. Larry also addressed the importance of a whole health approach when it comes to improving our healthcare system, highlighting the Primary Care-Behavioral Health Integration grant program funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Read Larry’s testimony here. View the hearing here (Larry’s testimony begins at 1:50:55).
George DelGrosso, CEO, Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council: George also spoke at the Senate HELP Committee’s hearing on “Assessing the State of America’s Mental Health System.” George described the widespread efforts within the state of Colorado to bring Mental Health First Aid training to a diverse array of audiences, including the State Sheriff’s Association, the Colorado Department of Corrections, and Governor Hickenlooper’s Cabinet members. He also spoke about behavioral health advocates’ desire to extend the training to school districts and institutions of higher education throughout the state. The Mental Health First Aid Act, soon to be introduced with bipartisan support in the Senate, would provide much-needed funding to support these efforts. Read George’s testimony here. View the hearing here (George’s testimony begins at 1:45:10).
Bob Vero, CEO, Centerstone: In his testimony before the Senate HELP Committee, Bob pointed out many of the barriers to accessing high-quality children’s mental health services. Among these is the lack of a federal definition of what services a community mental health center should offer: “consequently, many towns and cities, especially rural ones, do not have access to a continuum of evidence-based services designed for children and youth.” Bob encouraged Congress to pass the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which would establish just such a definition. He also addressed the important role that technology plays in supporting care coordination and communication among mental and primary care providers, urging support for the Behavioral Health IT Act, legislation that would extend federal incentive payments for health IT to certain eligible behavioral health facilities and professionals. Read Bob’s testimony here. View the hearing here (Bob’s testimony begins at 1:37:40).
Joining Larry, George, and Bob at the Senate HELP hearing was Dr. Michael Hogan, former Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health. Dr. Hogan described the many challenges that exist within the mental healthcare system, including the need to integrate mental healthcare into healthcare. With the upcoming health insurance expansions under the Affordable Care Act, “the opportunity before us is that health coverage that includes mental health care will become available for many Americans. We must use this opportunity to provide integrated primary care that includes basic mental health care.” He also spoke against cuts to the safety net and the importance of addressing gaps in children’s mental healthcare. Read his testimony here.
Also speaking at the hearing were SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde and National Institutes of Mental Health Director Thomas Insel. Administrator Hyde’s and Dr. Insel’s testimony are also available online.