2008 Presidential Candidates Address Mental Health Care Issues

Both John McCain and Barack Obama have pledged to make mental health treatment a priority in the new presidential administration. Both candidates emphasized treatment for returning veterans. Obama has spoken against cuts in services for both Medicare patients and veterans, though he has not been as specific as lobbyists would like.

Obama made a brief trip from the Denver Democratic convention to Billings, Montana. Speaking to a crowd of veterans in Billings, the candidate decried the faults of current policy. Obama also pointed out that armed services veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless than Americans who do not serve.

In Montana, roughly half the veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress go untreated for the psychological condition, said Obama. Before speaking, the Illinois Senator met with the family of Chris Dana. Dana was a Montana National Guard veteran with PTSD who committed suicide in March 2007, several months after being given a less than honorable discharge.

Dana was unable or, according to the military, unwilling to perform his duties after undergoing some terrifying experiences in Iraq. Dana’s experience is not uncommon. Many soldiers who seek mental health treatment are deemed by the military to be malingering or derelict, despite the fact that their symptoms meet the criteria for a recognized disorder.

Under attack for opposing certain changes in veterans’ care proposed by Obama, McCain has emphasized his own service. He assured reporters he recognizes the need for improved mental health care. It isn’t that McCain doesn’t want to increase services for veterans, said Erik Iverson, Montana GOP chairman. The Arizona senator’s proposals call for more spending on mental health care and traumatic brain injuries, two common types of damage in current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. However, the increase is less than Obama is proposing.

McCain has also proposed a health card for veterans that would entitle them to care at any medical facility. It could especially help veterans in rural areas. Like such areas in most of Montana, they may live near a local doctor or urgent care center but hundreds of miles from the closest veterans’ care facility.

Neither candidate or party has made a clear pledge to stop or reverse the drastic cuts to Medicare. Cuts in the past four years have reduced reimbursements as much as one fifth. Meanwhile, the cost of living has taken an opposite course. The good news, however, is that greater parity seems to have support from both parties. Perhaps even better is the simple fact that mental illness has become a perennial campaign issue.

In the past, it was rarely raised in national campaigns. Now it is obligatory to have a clear position on issues affecting Americans diagnosed with compromising medical conditions, as well as their families, friends, colleagues, and mental health care providers. Of course, that includes just about everybody! We can be grateful that this reality has finally been understood by our political officials and their associates.

© Copyright 2008 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cecelia


    August 29th, 2008 at 3:05 AM

    I am so happy to hear that the candidates are making mental health issues a part of their priorities. However there is still real work to be done. There is no need for greater recognition until the millions of Americans who lack health coverage are better able to receive and afford the services. That is where the true overhaul really needs to begin.

  • Jeni


    August 30th, 2008 at 2:56 AM

    Fantastic! It is about time!

  • Libby


    August 31st, 2008 at 12:48 PM

    You are so right. It is time that this nation’s citizens begin to take seriously the issues which surround mental illness and that which encompasses this. Let us all just keep pushing for more awareness and understanding within both our presidential candidates as well as the general public. There is a growing need for better care and treatment yet these things will not happen until American stand up and fight for what I believe is a very serious issue in the country.

  • Sarah Grayson

    Sarah Grayson

    September 4th, 2008 at 2:55 AM

    And don’t you think that this will get even more attention especially since GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin has a child with Down’s Syndrome? I know it is not exactly the same thing but since she is dealing with a mental disability in one of her own children the McCain/Palin ticket may be even more sensitive to the issue than previously stated.

  • Daniel Brezenoff

    Daniel Brezenoff

    September 4th, 2008 at 2:30 PM

    Sarah: Personally I’m not sure the GOP is going to be ‘sensitive’ to much at all, but yes, one would hope Palin’s child’s condition would call some more attention to the issues of the differently abled. Thank you for reading!

  • Michael


    September 29th, 2008 at 2:26 AM

    Unfortunately Daniel I have to agree with you. Social services do not ever seem to be high on the priority list of the Republicans. It always seems to me that they feel like this is something that is best left unspoken, let everyone deal with his or her individual problems in their own way and with their own money- never on the government’s dime! But what about those who do not have the money to get the mental health treatment and quality that they deserve? These are the people who really need a break and the GOP is far from being ready to start helping with those issues. I do hope that both candidates are ready to bring this issue and so many other health related issues to the forefront because I for one am sick and tired of having to sacrifice my health and to see others having to do the same thing just because we are not in a wealthy income tier in this country. This is unreasonable and something has to be done to stop it.

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