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Government News
Senate Approves Bill to Fund Post-Disaster MH Care
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 2 page 2-2
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Sen. Edward Kennedy: "Congress has an obligation to ensure. . .we are better prepared to deal with the mental health consequences of future tragedies."

"Every American is at risk, whether a loved one worked at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, or whether the family simply watched the attack on television from a continent away," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in remarks to the Senate December 12.

The Senate unanimously passed the Post Terrorism Mental Health Improvement Act that same day, which was sent to the House for action later last month.

Kennedy, a cosponsor of the bill (S 1729), chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which held a hearing on the psychological impact of terrorism in September following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (Psychiatric News, October 19, 2001).

"The September 26 hearing made it clear that Congress has an obligation to ensure that these mental health needs are met and that we are better prepared to deal with the mental health consequences of future tragedies," Kennedy told the Senate last month.

Psychiatrists who testified at the hearing included Spencer Eth, M.D., medical director of behavioral health services at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. Eth and other mental health experts warned that untreated symptoms of trauma could lead to long-term mental illness.

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The bill passed by the Senate authorizes additional mental health funding to state and local governments to train psychiatrists and mental health professionals to treat victims of terrorism. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released roughly $27 million last year to several states to help meet the needs of people affected by the events of September 11 (Psychiatric News, October 5).

If the Senate bill becomes law, state and local governments or other public entities would be able to apply for grants established by the bill to respond to the long-term mental health needs of people in areas directly affected by the terrorist attacks, according to the legislation.

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The grantees would have the option of using the funds to locate and provide treatment, including medication, for individuals suffering from a mental illness as a result of the September 11 attacks, according to the legislation.

However, the grants can be used only to pay for treatment that is not covered under federal or private health insurance programs, the bill stipulates.

The bill will also fund the development of a local coordinated mental health response to future disasters and research on how state and local entities can better respond to the needs of disaster victims.

Lastly, the legislation reauthorizes a $40 million appropriation for the treatment of children who experience violence-related stress.

The summary, status, and text of the bill can be accessed on the Thomas legislative Web site at thomas.loc.gov by searching on the bill number, "S 1729."

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Sen. Edward Kennedy: "Congress has an obligation to ensure. . .we are better prepared to deal with the mental health consequences of future tragedies."

"Every American is at risk, whether a loved one worked at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, or whether the family simply watched the attack on television from a continent away," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in remarks to the Senate December 12.

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