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Q&A: Mental Health Reform

October 7, 2016
Senator Chuck Grassley , Dysart Reporter

Q: Why are you co-sponsoring a bill to reform delivery of mental health services?

A: Although we are making important strides in this country to end a stigma tied to mental illness, there is broad agreement that we still have work to do to close the gap between mental health illness and mental health services. The first full week of October is designated as MentalIllness Awareness Week for good reason. Raising awareness about mental health and wellness in society is an important step to start the conversation and end the disconnect that exists when it comes to comprehensive health coverage for mental health. It's time to bring parity to delivery and access for mental health care services, including prevention, diagnosis and treatment. In fact, I cosponsored the original law to ensure that insurance companies cover mental health care on par with other types of health care and since then have worked to make sure insurers deliver. In my town meetings and communication with Iowans, I listen to the concerns and ideas shared by families, employers, health care providers and community leaders about public policy issues related to mental health, including job productivity, homelessness, public safety, substance abuse and addiction and paying for and access to mental health care. Fixing what's wrong will take collaboration among all the stakeholders. Consensus-based reforms are needed to make a meaningful difference and deliver effective, timely care to people with mental illness. Hundreds of Iowans have written to me with their concerns about access to care for themselves or a loved one. It's time to improve and strengthen America's mental health care delivery system. I am co-sponsoring a comprehensive, bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate, S. 2680,the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, to do just that. Our bill would strengthen accountability at the Department of Health and Human Services(HHS); encourage innovation and evidence-based programs for the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse; give states additional flexibility to use the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant this program provides federal dollars for mental health services for adults and children; require HHS to continue the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; reauthorize grants to support the recruitment and education of mental health care providers; allow HHS to update resources for eating disorders; authorize grants to strengthen Community Crisis Response outreach; and, create a training demonstration program to build up our mental health and substance abuse workforce. Good mental health is as important to everyday life as one's physical health. We can make our families and communities safer and stronger by making mental health care reform a public policy priority.

Q: Why is mental and behavioral health among members of our Armed Forces gaining urgency among the public and policymakers?

A: America's men and women in uniform sacrifice life and limb to protect the homeland and uphold freedom and liberty around the world. In our nation's history, hundreds of thousands of wounded warriors have suffered injuries on the front lines and hundreds of thousands more have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. But to grasp the full measure of the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, we also must take into account those who return from active duty with invisible wounds sustained on the battle field or from military sexual assault. Service-related mental health injuries can hold back a veteran's reintegration into society and make the transition to civilian life an uphill battle. Mental health conditions affecting service members and veterans may include posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or traumatic brain injury. According to a 2014 study in the JAMA Psychiatry, nearly one in four active duty members have signs of mental health conditions. The study also found that PTSD is 15 times higher among members of the military and the rate of depression is five times higher than civilians. I make it a priority to listen to our veterans, identify shortfalls in the system, hold wrongdoers accountable and develop solutions that will help make sure the federal government upholds its promises to our nation's veterans. In fact, I have advanced reforms for mental health wellness that will improve suicide awareness and prevention, as well as expand mental health treatment services at the Veterans Health Administration, or from a non-VA facility in certain situations. Senator Tom Harkin and I shepherded through the Senate the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which directed the VA to create a veterans crisis help line. As with any policy that gets implemented in Washington, oversight is key to holding the federal bureaucracy accountable. That's why I'm co-sponsoring a bill that requires the VA to make sure that crisis line is answered around-the-clock.The House version of the bill, authored by Rep. David Young, recently passed the House of Representatives. I am backing an effort to get a vote in the Senate when the Senate reconvenes in November. As far as I'm concerned, our men and women in uniform uphold a sacred duty to defend our nation. It is the least our nation can do to uphold the sacred promises we made to them for putting their lives on the line for us. If you are a veteran, service member or loved one who is concerned about a veteran, take immediate action today and call the toll-free, confidential crisis hotline: (800) 273-8255. Press 1. Veterans also may text 838255 for free, 24-hour, confidential support online. Responders are available 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Mental Illness Awareness Week is Oct. 2-8, 2016. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255 or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (800) 950-6264 if you or a loved one needs immediate help.



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