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Begich proposes bill to improve mental health care

Posted: January 25, 2013 - 1:07am

JUNEAU — Sen. Mark Begich is co-sponsoring legislation aimed at improving mental health care in this country.

The proposal is an expansion on a measure that Begich proposed last year to improve mental health services on college campuses but that died with the last Congress. The new plan has drawn bipartisan support, which Begich said should help the measure gain traction.

The measure, entitled the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013, has eight other original co-sponsors, including three Republicans — Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida.

“Around this place, it’s not often you can get bipartisan support very quickly,” Begich said Thursday, adding he expects others to sign on.

A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Democratic Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona, who was among those wounded in the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011.

The bill, among other things, would provide training for educators and others to learn the warning signs and risk factors for mental health issues, as well as teach techniques to de-escalate crises. It also would lay out steps for referrals to mental health services available in communities, according to Begich’s office.

Begich has called for a focus on improving mental health — rather than a focus on new gun control measures — after last month’s deadly school shooting in Connecticut.

“I think a lot of people clearly understand, it doesn’t matter if it’s here in Congress or across the country, that mental health services in our country are lacking significantly,” Begich said. “And at least one of the common denominators among these very violent mass killings that have occurred is individuals experiencing some sort of mental illness.”

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