U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today announced the formation of a task force to provide advice to him as he works on mental-health recommendations that will be part of his efforts to prevent gun-related violence.
The congressman today also asked Vice President Joseph Biden to incorporate the Mental Health First Aid Act into recommendations that the task force he leads will make to Congress on how to reduce violence associated with guns.
"Untreated or undiagnosed serious mental illness has been an underlying cause in a number of mass shootings," Barber said today. "As we work to prevent gun violence, we also must take steps to identify and treat mental illness."
Barber also noted, "We need to be clear that more than 95 percent of people with a mental illness never commit an act of violence."
The Mental Health Task Force that Barber has formed will advise him on mental health policy, including the prevention and treatment of mental illness and the role of mental health policy in violence prevention.
Barber has similar groups that provide advice on issues related to seniors, veterans and the military.
The first order of business for the Mental Health Task Force will be a discussion of Barber's plan to introduce the Mental Health First Aid Act, a bill he cosponsored in the 112th Congress and will reintroduce in a broader form with the input of this task force. The bill will provide training to help people identify and respond to signs of mental illness.
Today Barber also urged that the presidential task force headed by Vice President Biden include the Mental Health First Aid Act in its recommendations for addressing gun-related violence.
"No doubt, your interagency task force will consider many proposals," Barber wrote to Biden. "As you do this, I urge you to endorse common-sense, bipartisan proposals like the Mental Health First Aid Act. We have failed to give the mental health care needs of Americans due attention for too long -- and we have paid too high a price for this neglect."
Barber also has been named one of the vice chairs of a congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. That task force is chaired by Rep. Mike Thompson of California -- a wounded Vietnam veteran, hunter, gun owner and former chair of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus.
Over the next month, the congressional task force will hold a number of meetings and hearings with different experts designed to identify the best policies to reduce and prevent gun violence. A comprehensive set of policy proposals will be released by the task force in early February.
The text of Barber's letter to Biden is below.
January 7, 2013
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Vice President of the United States
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
1650 Pennsylvania, Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20501
Dear Vice President Biden:
I am writing to express my full support for the strong statements made by President Obama in the aftermath of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
Regarding one aspect of this important issue, I urge the interagency task force that you are now leading to include the Mental Health First Aid Act (HR 5996) in its recommendations to the U.S. Congress.
Those of us in Tucson understand what the people of Newtown are going through as they continue to heal and search for answers. While there is no single legislative answer that could address the many problems that came together to cause a horrifying tragedy such as that on January 8, 2011 in Tucson or on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, we know that untreated serious mental illness was an underlying cause in these violent incidents and others across our county. That is why mental health care must be part of any effort to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Upon entering Congress, I co-sponsored the Mental Health First Aid Act and I plan to re-introduce a broader of version of the legislation early in this session. Similar to first-aid trainings run by local chapters of the American Red Cross, this important measure will take a public health approach to mental disorders in two ways. First, it would provide training to teachers, students, firefighters, police officers, emergency services workers and others on recognizing the signs and symptoms of common mental health disorders. Second, it gives these same people the tools necessary to deal with psychiatric crises and how to secure services from mental health care providers including local community mental health centers.
The President recently said that we must come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like those in Newtown. No doubt, your interagency task force will consider many proposals. As you do this, I urge you to endorse common-sense, bipartisan proposals like the Mental Health First Aid Act. We have failed to give the mental health care needs of Americans due attention for too long -- and we have paid too high a price for this neglect.
Thank you for your leadership and for your consideration of my request.
Member of Congress