Two right-wing Senators are blocking a bipartisan mental health bill that would provide 40 million dollars to extend funding for mental health courts for five years, establish more crisis intervention teams to cooperate with law enforcement officers, and provide more extensive mental health screening for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, co-sponsored by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative Rich Nugent (R-FL), enjoys broad bi-partisan support. However, according to the Minneapolis Star & Tribune, an unnamed source reports that the legislation is being blocked from going to a floor vote by right-wing Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
The Franken Bill would provide much needed mental health services and tools for police and the courts to address deficiencies in the nation’s mental health system. The legislation should be uncontroversial, but Mike Lee and Tom Coburn adhere dogmatically to an anti-government ideology that would even deny combat veterans and others suffering from mental illness, access to critical services. Franken’s bill has 15 Republican co-sponsors in the US House and 13 in the US Senate, but Coburn and Lee still insist on stalling the legislation. Senate GOP sponsors include staunch conservatives like Mike Enzi (WY), Pat Roberts (KS), Orrin Hatch (UT), Chuck Grassly (IA) and Roy Blunt (MO), as well as more moderate Republican Senators, including Susan Collins (ME), Rob Portman (OH) and Kelly Ayotte (NH).
Conservatives who oppose gun control often argue that instead we need to do something about mentally ill people who become killers, yet when given the opportunity to approve of expanding mental services, conservative lawmakers like Lee and Coburn refuse to fulfill their obligation to do so. Mike Lee is a repeat offender. The Utah Senator joined Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in April by refusing to reauthorize and improve federal programs related to mental health and substance use disorders.
Right-wing and Libertarian opponents of gun control frequently argue that better mental health care, not new gun laws, are needed to prevent future mass shootings. Al Franken’s amendment is designed to provide better mental health care for Americans who need it, but right-wing and Libertarian heroes Tom Coburn and Mike Lee are blocking that legislation. The words of support for better mental health care ring hollow if they are not backed up by legislative action.
Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis highlighted the need for better mental health services for veterans. James Holmes, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza and several other recent mass shooters have illustrated the need for better mental health intervention programs in this country. However, Tom Coburn and Mike Lee do not want to take any action to reform our gun laws and they do not want to support federal programs designed to help the mentally ill. Until the right-wing puts some money into mental health services, their words about improving mental health care policy in this country provide absolutely nothing but empty rhetoric.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.