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Biden, Newtown Families to Tout Mental Health Funds

Biden, Newtown Families to Tout Mental Health Funds

By Alexis Simendinger - December 10, 2013

Ending this year much as it began, Vice President Biden on Tuesday hopes to return public attention to the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and to link last December’s tragedy to the nationwide call for additional mental health services.

Although the federal government in the nation’s capital officially closed Tuesday in response to an approaching winter storm, Biden is scheduled to meet at the White House with families of some of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims and advocates working to increase mental health treatment and services. They will discuss $100 million in federal spending aimed at addressing community mental health needs.

Following the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults in Connecticut, President Obama and the vice president led an unsuccessful effort to enact new gun control measures. Countering their push, the National Rifle Association argued to lawmakers that troubled individuals, rather than legally obtained guns, were to blame for a growing list of mass shootings. More Americans said individuals and societal stresses were to blame than guns or gun policies, according to polls conducted as Washington debated whether to restore an assault weapons ban and expand gun background checks.

With Obama attending the memorial service Tuesday for former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, the vice president planned to tout a provision of the Affordable Care Act that will funnel $50 million through the Department of Health and Human Services to increase access to counseling services.

Biden is expected to explain that over the next three years, the Agriculture Department also has “a goal” of investing $50 million in the construction, expansion, or improvement of mental health facilities in rural areas, tapping the department’s Community Facilities Direct Loan program, the White House said in a preview of the event.

In the wake of the wobbly October rollout of the HealthCare.gov portal for purchasing private insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, the administration has been especially eager to draw attention to the benefits of the law, including the expansion of community health centers in regions of the country not served by large medical facilities.

Biden is expected to describe how HHS funding, channeled through smaller community health centers, can be used to “establish or expand behavioral health services for people living with mental illness or addiction.” The funds can support the hiring of mental health professionals and increasing services aimed at mental health and substance abuse, the White House said.

The vice president led the president’s task force on gun violence in the Newtown aftermath. The group produced a report earlier this year titled “Now Is the Time,” which called for, among many policy proposals, increased national access to mental health services. “We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun,” Obama said. In the absence of congressional action on the guns agenda, the president used his administrative and executive authority to make 23 federal changes, including some in the arena of mental health.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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