Q: What measures have you led in the 117th Congress to improve mental health services?
A: By all accounts, one of the crushing consequences resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is the toll on mental wellness among Americans from all walks of life. From bereavement among those who lost loved ones, to young people kept out of the classroom, a collective sense of uncertainty gripped heads of households and small business owners, restrictions kept elderly nursing home residents isolated from loved ones and took away milestone moments for tens of millions of families. People cope with stress in different ways. We must take care as a society to treat everyone with kindness and respect. The burdens being carried on the shoulders of a nurse, cashier, delivery driver, neighbor or co-worker may be invisible to us, but seem insurmountable to them. In the last year, I’ve participated in four Finance Committee hearings focused on improving delivery of mental and behavioral health care in our communities, especially rural areas. I’ve advocated for improvements to mental health services for youth and kids with complex medical conditions. And, I’ve supported measures to boost resources for our health care heroes on the front lines of care. In December 2020, I supported legislation that expanded Medicare-funded positions for an additional 1,000 graduate medical education residency slots and expanded flexibility for rural hospitals who participate in the GME Rural Training Tracks. Acute workforce shortages are hitting hospitals and clinics across the country and these measures will give a boost to underserved areas. The legislation also increased funding for loan repayment and scholarships for health science professionals entering the workforce. In 2020, I secured the permanent expansion for Medicare-covered telehealth coverage for mental health services and am working to extend telehealth flexibilities for other services and Iowa’s critical access hospitals.
Q: How are you working to improve mental health care in the criminal justice system?
A: As crime escalates across America, I’m continuing my work to build on bipartisan efforts to help reduce repeat offenders, keep our streets safe and get the most bang out of the taxpayer dollar. The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act provides supports for mental health courts and peer to peer services for qualified veterans; improves emergency and crisis services for mentally ill individuals who are incarcerated and post-prison services to reduce recidivism. This year I’m working to update a law I helped pass in 2004 that sought to improve coordination between the criminal justice and the mental health care systems. The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Reauthorization Act would renew federal programs that help states and counties work together to train law enforcement and first responders how to provide crisis services, including incidents involving persons with mental illness or substance abuse disorders in their communities. In March, I supported legislation that bumped up funding for law enforcement training responding to incidents involving people with mental health illnesses or disabilities. It also provides supports for the national roll-out of the 988 dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Signed into law by President Trump, the three-digit code is set to go live on July 16, 2022.
This week during National Police Week, I reintroduced my bipartisan Fighting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act with Sen. Sherrod Brown to establish mental health services specifically for our law enforcement, first responder, fire, emergency medical and 911 workforce who cope day in and day out with the stress of responding 24/7 to crisis situations in the line of duty. Our bill recognizes the sacrifices they make to put their lives on the line for their communities and the toll it can take on their mental health.
Since 1949, May is observed as Mental Health Awareness Month to help build awareness and support for people with mental illness and their families. I encourage Iowans to regularly check in with friends and loved ones. Discussing mental wellness and opening lines of communication about anxiety, depression and other behavioral health issues can help end the stigma that delays treatment and the road to recovery for too many Americans. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people age 15-24 and the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans. If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK.