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      Stabenow pushing for mental health expansion

      Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D) with community mental health leaders.

      Over a dozen community leaders associated with mental health services heard about Senator Debbie Stabenow's new push for mental health.The Excellence in Mental Health Act aims to expand access to treatment by ensuring behavioral mental health services be adequately reimbursed under Medicaid. Additionally, insurance companies will be required to cover mental and substance abuse services the same as for physical.Stabenow says mental health is something she dealt with firsthand and recounted growing up with her father who suffered from bipolar disorder, adding that it took 10 years to diagnose."We spent way too long dividing those kinds of diseases," said the Michigan senator. "My broader message is we need to get this thing right."Stabenow said the gun debate in Washington, sparked by recent massive shootings including Newtown, Aurora and Tucson, has thrown the topic of mental health services on the table of lawmakers and told community leaders it's best to strike while the "iron is hot." The Michigan senator added the act is an alternative to gun reform."This is the moment," Stabenow stated. "Although those with mental health are more likely to be the victim of a crime rather than the perpetrators; now is the time."

      "It's something both the House and Senate want to get done," the senator added. "For the first time, lawmakers are saying we need to improve mental health.""What we need help with is to write letters of support to our House members and get it done," Stabenow said.The bipartisan bill would allow community mental health services to apply and qualify for the same funding as health centers. Stabenow believes the Excellence in Mental Health Act will make a "huge difference."The senator turned her focus towards Iraq and Afghanistan veterans noting 22 veterans commit suicide everyday."There are more people needing services than there are available," Stabenow expressed. "There are a strong group of veterans in support of this act."The Mental Health First Aid act deals with training for signs of mental illness with community leaders including law enforcement and school teachers. However, Stabenow stressed that without additional resources, these are hard to implement."If we don't deal with the fundamental issue of the lack of resources, it won't matter," she stated.The senator said Republicans are pushing for cutting funds everywhere including public services and education. Stabenow concluded her conference by letting community leaders know she's fighting to push for cuts where she believes money is being wasted, not where it's worth investing.The bill would have to be passed by the Senate and House, a decision Stabenow hopes will be made by the end of 2013. If it passes, the senator said it would take until the end of 2014 before changes are implemented.