National Press Club

Two former congressmen launch ‘civil rights’ drive for mentally ill, drug addicted

March 14, 2012 | By Robert Webb |

Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)

Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)

Photo/Image: Terry Hill

Former U.S. congressmen Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad called at a March 14 National Press Club Luncheon for a nationwide crusade to ensure that the millions of Americans with mental illness and/or drug addiction problems receive parity in the nation’s insurance and health-care system.

The two former legislators, both recovered substance abusers, came down hard on insurance companies and other providers that continue to stigmatize mental illness and drug addiction, thus robbing victims of the care they need.

At the same time, Kennedy and Ramstad reached out to insurance companies and health-service providers to join a collaborative effort they called a “Parity Implementation Coalition” for parity for all.

"Millions of Americans are suffering from mental illness or addictions" said Ramstad, stressing that they should receive the same level of help as individuals with other health problems. “We must put a stop to discrimination against mental illness and inflated co-payments," he said.

Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat and son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Ramstad, a Minnesota Republican, have tentatively set field hearings for Kalamazoo, Mich., April 26; Los Angeles/San Diego, May 22; the Washington, D.C, metro area June 26; and Minneapolis, July 17.

Other hearings will follow in Chicago in August and New York City in September. Kennedy and Ramstad call the series of hearings "Patriots for Parity."

Both speakers deplored what they said was the woeful lack of proper treatment of many war veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. "We owe them a lot more than they're getting now," Kennedy said.

Harking back to the civil rights legislation that President John Kennedy, his uncle, initiated, Kennedy said "parity for the mentally ill and addicted is a ‘civil rights’ issue."

Kennedy and Ramstad also called for quick action by Congress to establish a rule for the mental health legislation signed by former President George W. Bush but not implemented. They urged their National Press Club and television audiences to join the battle.

Both also emphasized the urgency of helping young people know that their consumption of alcohol could lead them into the only nationally legal drug dependency. Prevention, they said, is the best approach.

Kennedy, co-founder and co-chairman of One Mind for Research(OMR)announced that Army General Peter W. Chiarelli, who just retired as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and was in the audience, will become chief Executive officer of the non-profit non-government organization effective March 12. OMR brings health care providers, researchers, academics and the health care industry together to cure brain disorders.