June 9, 2016
Senator Mitch McConnell
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator McConnell:
I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency charged with advising the President and Congress on disability policy matters, including mental health, to encourage you to schedule the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 (S.2680) for a floor vote.
Over the past year, there has been much discussion and several bills that seek to address the deficiencies in the current mental health system. NCD staff has engaged with many congressional staff and disability advocates on both sides of some of the most contentious issues in these debates. The debates have been vigorous and ultimately productive as it now appears that the investment of time and deliberations that so many legislators have made in this area is being rewarded with the emergence of several shared principles.
S. 2680 ensures that programs that serve those with psychiatric disabilities are effective and accountable; it improves coordination between state and federal programs; it promotes the use of innovative and proven approaches to mental health treatment; and improves access to mental health care for people across the board, including veterans and underserved populations.
This bill would not fix all the problems in the mental health system, nor will it make up for cuts that have occurred in many states over the past decade or more. There are still reforms needed in the criminal justice system, where people with psychiatric disabilities are still vastly over-represented. The nation’s schools and post-secondary institutions are also in the process of recalibrating their responses to students with psychiatric disabilities, especially as implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act gets underway and Congress prepares to next turn its attention to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). On that score, NCD is in the process of gathering information and data for a report on the issue of mental health on college campuses, and we hope to have specific and timely recommendations that will be helpful to Congress as it engages in its work on HEA reauthorization.
While not a panacea, the bill that emerged from the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is an important step in the right direction. Furthermore, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has continued to work towards a bill that represents a compromise that moves consensus ideas forward, and hopefully improves the mental health system for people with psychiatric disabilities. The mental-health system has been fragmented and under-resourced for too long. The time is now to bring this bill to the floor and give the full Senate—and we will urge the House leadership to do the same--an opportunity to vote, and potentially improve the system of care provided to the country’s citizens with psychiatric disabilities.
Clyde E. Terry