- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican, unveiled legislation Thursday he says will help fix the nation’s broken mental health system and let families and individuals get treatment for those who need it, as lawmakers grapple with possible ways to reduce gun-related violence.

The legislation clarifies federal privacy laws so that doctors and mental health professionals can inform family members of people who need help, increases access to psychiatric beds, and protects certain classes of drugs commonly used to treat mental illness so doctors can prescribe the correct medications for people on Medicare and Medicaid.

“Too many individuals with mental illness are ending up on the street or in jail because of mental illness,” said Mr. Murphy, a clinical psychologist with more than three decades of experience. “We must no longer be silent on the need to help the mentally ill because millions of families are struggling with a son, daughter, or loved one who is sick and needs help.”

The measure already has support from the American Psychological Association, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The announcement comes two days before the first anniversary of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., when Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Despite a heavy push from President Obama and gun control advocacy groups, no major federal legislation was passed afterward.

A recent investigator’s report into the shooting showed that Lanza had mental illness problems, though it does not draw a causal link between those problems and the shooting. Still, advocates on both sides of the gun issue have agreed that improving the country’s mental health system should be a part of attempts to prevent similar events from happening in the future.

The White House also announced a $100 million initiative this week to increase access to mental health services.

Last month on the House floor, Mr. Murphy referenced the case of Austin “Gus” Deeds, the son of Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, who underwent a psychiatric evaluation last month but was released after officials couldn’t find him a bed in a treatment facility. The next day, Gus Deeds stabbed his father, who was the Democratic nominee for Virginia governor in 2009, before taking his own life with a rifle.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who defeated the Bath County Democrat in 2009, is proposing $38.3 million for the state’s new two-year budget to expand crisis response and crisis prevention services for the state’s behavioral health system. He’s also issued an executive order to convene a task force on improving mental health services and crisis response.

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday also signed off on legislation authored by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, and Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, to expand access to community mental health services.

The measure establishes criteria for certified community behavioral health clinics to ensure providers cover a range of mental health services, such as 24-hour crisis care. It has broad bipartisan support and about two dozen co-sponsors, and was included as an amendment to the so-called “doc fix” bill that changes how doctors are reimbursed for Medicare services.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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