Interview with Reps. Murphy and Napolitano

Interview with Reps. Murphy and Napolitano

By State of the Union - January 16, 2011

CROWLEY: Joining me now from Pittsburgh, congressman Tim Murphy and in Los Angeles Congresswoman Grace Napolitano. Thank you for being here this morning.

And obviously you're here because both of you have shown an interest throughout your careers in mental illness and in remedies that might kind of ease the struggles of so many. What I'm wondering is if you look at policy making in Washington and policymakers do you see the same dedication that you have any place else across the political spectrum?

NAPOLITANO: Certainly not, Candy. Unfortunately, it does not hit the radar scope in Washington or almost in any state house. And I can tell you I've been on this for over 20 some odd years and it's always something you don't talk about, you don't discuss because of the stigma and I think we need to address that heavily.

CROWLEY: Congressman Murphy, in your former life you were a child psychologist so you come to this with a good deal of expertise as well as a politician. There is no constituency here that votes. And isn't that the problem?

MURPHY: Actually the constituency are the parents, those with mental illness and everybody else in society. This is something we have to pay attention to.

Look as we're trying to piece together what happened in Arizona, unfortunately, people are going at the low hanging fruit and they're blaming political discourse, which may have some role in the underlying aspects here, but we also need to look at there will be other things that come out, the music, the video games, the social ways that people handle anger.

But it goes up to the other levels, too, in terms of are we acknowledging and appropriately treating mental illness. And in a case like this, are there also aspects of drug abuse, which by the way are the most predictive of violent behavior.

Now, members of congress hopefully will be motivated by this as will people in the state houses and state senates to look carefully at their mental health systems and their involuntary commitment system laws and make some determinations do we need to do some things so that these things can be prevented in the future. CROWLEY: Congresswoman, to be totally honest here, there's no more money in the budget, and I find impossible the notion that state houses who have cut billions nationwide out of services for the mentally ill or that the federal government is going to pony up any more money. NAPOLITANO: You are so right. And unfortunately, it's not something that we focus on that brings votes as you've heard before. These youngsters don't vote. The parents, there's not been enough cohesiveness to say to them, treat them like the illness it is.

You do diabetes, you do asthma, you do heart disease but do you not do mental health. And unfortunately that has been the case for many, many decades. And I think we need to begin to impress upon both the state and federal governments the urgency of this, because every time there's a tragedy, there's a lot of there's hoopla for a month, two months. It dies down, goes away, everybody forgets about it and we're on to the next thing.

CROWLEY: And because Congressman Murphy we're not talking about - and again we have not officially diagnosed this man, but it appears to all the professionals to have been suffering from schizophrenia. Having said that, whatever his illness was, if he had one, we're not talking about one man, we are talking about one man who shot 20 people, killed six of them, and all of the friends and the family and all of those and a country in this case affected by this. Why is it so hard to get people to focus on it?

MURPHY: Well, let's look at a couple things here. One is that we don't know if things would have been different if we could have prevented this tragedy. We do know that appropriate and timely mental health treatment has prevented tragedies and will prevent tragedies.

Part of what congress needs to do is look at this as we do, we put money into things and resources. We need to understand when you have a chronic illness, you're twice as likely to have an accompanying mental illness. When you treat that mental illness, you can reduce health care costs massively. And this is what we need to be looking at, not just where we spend resources but where we save resources. Unfortunately we also have a system that Congressional Budget Office always scores things in terms of how much money is spent but never scores things in terms of how much money is saved.

But I believe this issue has touched the hearts of so many members of congress who are constantly stopping me and saying is there something else we could have done, is there something else we can do? And I believe so, by looking at some of the laws here, and looking at some of the ways we do have health care spending and we are looking at the aspects of mental illness as a treatable thing, but if we have to pay attention to those things.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I want to show you a Quinnipiac poll that was out in the field between the 10th and 11th of January. And the question was, what do you think is the main reason for the Arizona shooting? 40 percent said it couldn't have been prevented. 23 percent said the mental health system. 15 percent said political rhetoric and 9 percent said gun laws.

When you look at that, can you tell me, first to you Congresswoman Napolitano, where do you stand on this? What do you think is the reason behind the shooting? NAPOLITANO: I think the ability for the parents to get their children help, know where to turn to, know what the symptoms are, maybe to the education institution to be able to help them understand what their roles should have been or should be, the friends, to be able to call somebody, be able to not hide this anymore, because if there were warning signs and people didn't know they couldn't step forward and be able to help this individual, I believe, I don't think it was political. I think we are political and we are targets. I know I've received threats in my office. You tend to take those minimally because if you're scared, then you shouldn't be in politics.

It's one of those areas where I believe that we are not informing and educating the public enough to be able to help them make the decisions to help those that they love. And I'm not saying it would have prevented it but certainly would have been able to have as Tim eloquently stated help for the individual before it got to this point. All this is not something that happened yesterday. It's been going on for years.

CROWLEY: Congressman Murphy, when you -- a little earlier you said that you sense among your colleagues who have come to you and said what else could we have done let's take the money off the table because I think we're all realists here, what else could congress do other than increase funding for states to provide services, is there something else? Is there a change in the law that's needed here? Is there something else you could do?

MURPHY: I think there's a lot of things the states can do. Although what Grace and I want to do, and perhaps in the energy and commerce committee which I sit on, do some hearings and go through this piece by piece. I think there are some things in state laws and questions of were they applied and federal laws. In particular, the involuntary out-patient commitment law that Arizona has that something that state's ought to be taking a look at.

If this rose to the level for the school to say they needed to contact police on campus or other places to have this case reviewed, to bring this to the attention of parents, the question becomes, why wasn't the next step taken for involuntary outpatient commitment? Why was not the step taken to have this young man evaluated?

This is a question that schools all over the country and parents all over the country are asking, should they go to that next step. But there are things that can be done, and these are legal procedures that can take place. That's something I want to know, where things stand on a state and federal level, what can be done.

But in general, the federal government does not get involved in these involuntary commitment cases unless there's an actual threat or contacting (ph) about a federal employee. But we do want to know what happens and what else we can do on the federal level to provide assistance.

CROWLEY: Congressman Tim Murphy, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, thank you so much, both of you, for your time. We will be watching those hearings. Thank you.

NAPOLITANO: OK. Thank you, Candy.


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