Many behavioral healthcare advocates were more than pleased that Sen. Barack Obama named Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. “Excellent news for mental health care advocates!” wrote oneblogger.
Why the excitement? Because Biden has been a steadfast supporter of behavioral health legislation in the Senate, where he has served since 1972.
For instance, Biden has long supported mental health parity in insurance coverage, cosponsoring the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act.
When he launched his own presidential campaign in 2007, Biden wrote to the National Alliance on Mental Illness to say he believes in “investing in research for new methods of prevention and treatment, and working to make sure these innovations are available to patients by guaranteeing that insurance providers must provide full parity for mental health treatment.”
In several other instances, Biden has pushed to make sure mental health treatment is included in solutions to problems such as prisoner recidivism and healthcare for veterans. He cosponsored the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act of 2007. Signed by President Bush last November, the law provides funds for research, counseling, family education, and peer-to-peer support programs.
To reduce the stigma associated with addiction, last year Biden introduced a bill that would rename the National Institute on Drug Abuse as the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as the National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health.
Mental health advocates in Delaware say that over the years they have developed a good rapport with the senator’s office on helping constituents with mental health issues. Pat McDowell, program director for NAMI-Delaware, says that as much as people focus on Biden’s national security strengths, she believes his ability to be empathetic is tied to his daily Amtrak trips between Wilmington and Washington, D.C. “I think that gives him a chance to talk to people and keep his finger on the pulse,” she says.
“You can tell by the things he has introduced that he does care about protecting the rights of people with mental illness,” says Carlyle Hooff, NAMI-Delaware’s executive director. She adds that there’s no question in her mind that he would continue to be a strong advocate for behavioral health issues as vice-president. “He has been a real straight shooter and has done a lot of work around these issues,” Hooff says, “so maybe he could have an even greater influence as vice-president than as a senator from Delaware.”
Editor’s note: For a look at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s record on behavioral healthcare issues, click here.
David Raths is a freelance writer.