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National Council Honors Senators, Representatives as Legislators of the Year

Contact Susan Partain at susanp@thenationalcouncil.org or call 202.684.7457 x232

Washington, DC, September 16, 2013 — To recognize his exemplary leadership on behalf of people with mental health and substance use disorders, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing honors Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) as its Behavioral Health Champion.

The National Council also recognizes six other members of Congress as Legislators of the Year: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ), Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ).

“All of the legislators honored today have done yeoman’s work to help people with mental illnesses and addictions live full and productive lives,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council. “They’ve worked tirelessly to preserve our nation’s behavioral health safety net, which supports some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Since taking office in 2010, Sen. Mark Begich has risen as a recognized leader on behalf of people with mental illnesses and addictions, most recently by championing the bipartisan Mental Health First Aid Act. Sen. Begich cosponsored the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013 (S. 162) to expand and improve mental health services offered to individuals within the criminal justice system. He raised awareness of challenges associated with posttraumatic stress disorder and ensured that individuals living with this disorder receive proper treatment, cosponsoring a resolution designating the month of June 2013 as “National Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month” (S.RES. 169). And he has joined forces with his colleagues on important legislation such as the Mental Health in Schools Act and the Service Member Mental Health Review Act (S. 628).

“For his persistent, passionate, and powerful leadership on behalf of individuals with mental illnesses and addictions, as well as the organizations that care for them, the National Council is pleased to honor Senator Begich as the 2013 Behavioral Health Champion,” said Charles Ingoglia, senior vice president for public policy and practice improvement at the National Council.

In addition to recognizing the Behavioral Health Champion, the National Council also recognizes six U.S. Senators and Representatives as Legislators of the Year for their efforts to raise awareness of mental illnesses and substance use concerns and to expand access to quality behavioral health services for all Americans. Honorees include:

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) for her leadership in introducing the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013 and supporting inclusion of this legislation as a component of the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 689), which she helped to achieve a near unanimous vote in favor of S. 689. Sen. Ayotte also co-sponsored the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013, which improves training for law enforcement and community partners to assist people with mental health concerns.
  • Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) for leading efforts to ensure that individuals with mental illnesses and addictions have access to timely, high quality care. The lead co-author of the Excellence in Mental Health Act (S. 264), with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, he champions the need for defined standards and higher reimbursement for community behavioral health organizations. Sen. Blunt also supported the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 689), cosponsored the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013 (S. 162) and the Building a Health Care Workforce for the Future Act (S. 1152), legislation to ensure an adequate number of behavioral health professionals in the healthcare workforce.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for taking a strong stance on expanding Americans’ access to mental health and addiction services. An original co-sponsor of the Excellence in Mental Health Act, he helped build bipartisan support for this legislation and raise public awareness of the need for public policy solutions that increase the availability of behavioral healthcare services while maintaining a high standard of care. Sen. Rubio’s outspokenness about the need for greater investments in the U.S. community behavioral health system has helped propel these issues to the forefront of Congress’ attention this year.
  • Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) for his tireless work to recruit bipartisan support of the Mental Health First Aid Act (H.R. 274), which he authored. Following the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in which he was wounded, he founded the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, a foundation that has helped his community heal in a variety of ways, including through a focus on mental health. Rep. Barber has joined forces with other legislators to promote a number of significant behavioral health bills, including the Behavioral Health IT Act (H.R. 2957), the Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2013 (H.R. 2485), which would support the extension of treatment programs for mentally ill veterans; the Military Suicide Reduction Act (H.R. 1463); and the Mental Health in Schools Act (H.R. 628).
  • Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) for supporting the health and wellbeing of people with behavioral health conditions by authoring the bipartisan Mental Health First Aid Act (H.R. 274) and co-sponsorship of the Expedited Hiring for VA Trained Psychiatrists Act, which aimed to reduce the wait times for veterans seeking mental health services by accelerating the hiring process of psychiatrists at VA facilities.
  • Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) for supporting public policies to strengthen and expand the behavioral health safety net, chiefly in co-authoring the Excellence in Mental Health Act (H.R. 1263) during the 113th congress. On the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Lance has worked to improve quality standards and to ensure more people have access to needed behavioral health care.  He also supported legislation to address the post-deployment mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms of veterans.

During the National Council’s Hill Day September 16-17, more than 700 mental health advocates — including persons with mental and addictions disorders, families, community members and healthcare providers — meet with their members of Congress to ask for support to improve the lives of people with mental illnesses and addictions.
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The National Council for Mental Wellbeing (National Council) is the unifying voice of America’s community mental health and addictions treatment organizations. Together with our 2,000 member organizations, we serve our nation’s most vulnerable citizens — the more than eight million adults and children living with mental illnesses and addiction disorders. We are committed to ensuring all Americans have access to comprehensive, high-quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery and full participation in community life. The National Council pioneered Mental Health First Aid in the U.S. and has trained more than 100,000 individuals to connect youth and adults in need to mental health and addictions care in their communities. Visit  www.theNationalCouncil.org  for more information.