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chucks-chair-webDear National Council Ambassadors,

2015 has been an active year for Congress when it comes to mental health and substance use legislation. From the introduction of the Mental Health First Aid Act, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, and a myriad of comprehensive mental health reform bills, the 114th Congress has the potential to build on the meaningful and long-lasting changes to mental health and substance use treatment services that began with the Excellence in Mental Health Act.

But we can’t get there without your help—and that’s what makes Hill Day 2015 the most important advocacy event of the year.

This October, hundreds of behavioral health advocates will descend upon Washington, D.C. to have their voices heard in the halls of Congress. We want YOU to be one of them! All year, you have been building relationships with your members of Congress, and this is the culmination of all of your hard work. Secure your spot on the Hill – register today!

We look forward to having you with us October 5-6 on Capitol Hill.

Chuck Ingoglia
Senior Vice President, Public Policy & Practice Improvement


upcoming-activities-webNational Council Hill Day 2015

When: October 5-6, 2015

Where: Register online here!

As the prominence of National Council Hill Day continues to rise, so too do the headliners we bring in each year. For 2015, we are thrilled to be joined by the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd! Register here and secure your time with “the most powerful journalist in Washington!”

Ambassador Talking Points

When: Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Where: Your Inbox

In two weeks, the Ambassador Talking Points will provide you with the National Council Hill Day asks! Be the first to see this year’s fact sheets and advocacy requests of members of Congress. As Ambassadors, you are familiar with legislation currently moving on Capitol Hill, but this exclusive preview will give you the edge you need to demonstrate your superstar advocacy skills come October!

Unite to Face Addiction Rally

When: Sunday, October 4, 2015

Where: National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Join hundreds of advocates in a march on Washington! The day before Hill Day 2015, the Unite to Face Addiction Rally will gather on the National Mall and once again bring the issues of addiction and recovery to the forefront of our national political agenda. Get to DC a day early and be a part of history!


Congratulations to this month’s outstanding Ambassador, Susan Marine

Where: Colorado

What: In just one week, Susan met with her Member of Congress and his staff three times! As the Advocacy Chair for the Mental Health Partners in Colorado, Susan attended an event with Congressman Jared Polis, thanking him for his cosponsorship of the Mental Health First Aid Act. She then followed up with his staff to discuss new legislation for his office to support. Using her Ambassador Talking Points as a guide, Susan advocated on timely and important issues and continued to strengthen her relationships with Congressman Polis and his staff.

How you can do this too: Book a meeting! Last month’s Ambassador Talking Points shared with you ways to meet with your member of Congress or their staff while they were home for the August recess. (There are still two weeks left!) Take that first step and schedule a meeting. Feel free to reach out to National Council staff  for suggestions on what topics to cover. Book that first meeting and lay the groundwork for a successful Hill Day!

Want to be featured here? Share your advocacy story with us today! 



On the Shoulders of the Excellence Act: Comprehensive Mental Health Reform

In March of 2014, the dam broke on mental health and substance use treatment reform when the President signed the Excellence in Mental Health Act demonstration program into law. The Excellence Act represented the largest federal investment in these services in over a generation. It provided a framework on which the future of our field can and will be built. Over the last year, we have seen a continued focus among lawmakers on addressing the many obstacles that prevent Americans from accessing timely, high-quality mental health and addiction services. Some of these efforts have been controversial. All of them are important to talk about. Here’s why.

Four approaches to addressing our mental health and substance use crisis are reflected in four bills currently before Congress: the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646), the Mental Health Reform Act (S. 1945), the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act (S. 1893), and the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act (S. 2002).

What has received the big headlines are the portions of these bills that have generated controversy: proposed changes to federal privacy laws, restructuring of federal agencies, and more. Less prevalent in the news are the various provisions found in one or more of the four bills that have garnered broad consensus in the behavioral health field:

  • Funding Mental Health Awareness Training: These legislative initiatives fund training programs – like Mental Health First Aid – to educate the public, law enforcement officers, paramedics and emergency personnel on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and addictions.
  • Expanding the Excellence in Mental Health Act Demonstration Program: Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics – created by the Excellence in Mental Health Act – receive reimbursement that reflects their actual cost of care, supporting them in expanding services to Americans with unmet need. H.R. 2646 extends the Excellence Act demonstration by two years and two states, an important first step in expanding these reforms to benefit Americans across the country.
  • Strengthening Parity Enforcement: Parity is a critical tool in ensuring Americans have access to the full range of medically necessary mental health and addiction care. Yet, parity’s promise has been stymied by confusion over rule implementation and enforcement issues. Provisions in H.R. 2646 (in Sec. 103(a) and Sec. 901) and S. 1945 (in Sec. 901 and Sec. 902) aim to strengthen federal oversight of parity enforcement.
  • Focusing on Early Intervention, Innovation, and Dissemination of Evidence-Based Practices: H.R. 2646 and S. 1945 include numerous provisions designed to move identification and treatment upstream – that is, to support prevention and intervention at an early stage before patients’ mental health or substance use conditions worsen.
  • Reauthorizing Key SAMHSA Programs: H.R. 2646, S. 1893, and S. 1945 include language reauthorizing important programs funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including: Garrett Lee Smith suicide prevention activities, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, comprehensive community mental health services for children with serious emotional disturbances and more.
  • Addressing Justice-Involved Populations: Legislators are turning to mental health reform as a means for addressing behavioral health care needs and reducing recidivism. Potential reforms include: grants for law enforcement crisis intervention teams; assistance for addressing mental health as part of offender reentry, mental health and drug treatment alternatives to incarceration, and much more.
  • Promoting Technology for Behavioral Health: H.R. 2646 includes the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act, legislation that expands federal Meaningful Use incentives to previously ineligible mental health and substance use treatment providers and facilities. S. 1945 also addresses telehealth by establishing telehealth child psychiatry access grants.

Members of Congress serving on key committees have indicated they plan to move forward with comprehensive mental health and addiction reform this fall. It’s important that we be at the table to inform these discussions, while providing staff with insights into how the proposed changes would affect health care providers and the individuals they serve.

As National Council Ambassadors, your relationships with Members of Congress and their staff will truly make a difference as these comprehensive reforms to the behavioral health system are debated. Your efforts now will help finalize these details, making a lasting impact on the work you and your colleagues do every day. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to make your voice heard—join us at Hill Day 2015!



Opioid and Heroin Prevention

The White House recently announced its Heroin Response Strategy, a new initiative that will encourage and incentivize collaboration among public health and law enforcement officials in an effort to shift the emphasis from punishment to the treatment of people with addictions. The initiative will initially involve $2.5 million in funding for one year in 15 states. Read more about the Administration’s effort here.

Excellence in Mental Health Act

State planning grant applications have been submitted! In October, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will continue the implementation of the Excellence in Mental Health Act by awarding qualified states funding to develop proposals to participate in the two-year demonstration program. Did your state apply? The National Council wants to make sure you have everything you need to be ready to become a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic. Check out all of our CCBHC resources here.


When Congress returns from recess next week, lawmakers will be faced with finalizing and agreeing to a budget for FY2016. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have finalized their spending bills, with mental health and substance use remaining relatively unharmed. Click here for our full coverage of proposed funding levels.



Couldn’t meet with your legislator? Meeting with staff can be just as rewarding.

 When you book a meeting with your legislator’s office, it is understandable to be disappointed if the legislator is unable to attend. Remember, he/she is just one person and finding time to meet with them face to face can be challenging. But all is not lost. In fact, building relationships with staff is incredibly important and can be rewarding in an entirely different way.

Here are three reasons why relationships with Congressional staff are so important:

  1. They are subject matter experts. Staff are experts in their policy field. In most cases, the staff member you are meeting with will be one of the main resources and advisers to your legislator on the mental health and substance use policies on which you are advocating. Legislators are incredibly knowledgeable, but have to know about every topic they may face. Staff are able to specialize in just a few policy areas, learning the ins and outs of what constituents are facing and the wonky, policy facts that matter when deciding whether or not their boss should support a bill or advocate for an issue.
  2. They have the ear of your member of Congress. Staff members are the ones the legislator turns to for advice and counsel on issues.  For health staffers, legislators turn to them to understand the specifics of new legislation like the Mental Health First Aid Act or the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. With a staff member on your side advocating for support of an issue or a cosponsorship of a particular bill, you are in a good position to succeed. Staff members are often more easily accessible than the legislator, allowing you to build a rapport with them as a resource their office can trust.
  3. They know policy; but they know politics even better. While we all want to believe that the best ideas make progress in Congress, but that is not always the case. Good politics is often just as important as good policy on Capitol Hill. And staffers know good politics. They are the ones who make things move in the halls of Congress. Scheduling meetings, writing legislation, and setting the groundwork to make compromises and pass legislation. None of this happens without the guidance and political expertise of staff.

When you make your meetings, aim high – request a meeting with your legislator. But if they are unavailable, don’t get discouraged. Eagerly take the meeting with staff and welcome the opportunity to build strong relationships with key influencers in federal policymaking.


Here are a few thought-provoking articles and resources that we’ve come across recently. Happy reading!

Mental Health Reform has a Real Chance. Mental health reform is gaining attention and momentum in Congress, with the House and Senate introducing various bipartisan bills on the issue. Read more here.

Insurance Won’t Always Cover Addiction Care. In spite of a federal law that states insurers must consider addiction the same as any other medical problem, rehab facilities across the country battle insurers to cover longer stays for their patients. Read more here.