HR 2646 Meddles in Executive Branch Management and Offers an Empty Promise to Families and Providers

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Morning Zen ~ Scott Bryant-Comstock ~

By now, you most likely have heard the news that the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015 (HR 2646). Amid the cheers among national mental health advocacy groups and members of Congress, I find myself bewildered at the apparent willingness to overlook the many critical flaws in this bill. Have we come to the place where we choose to settle for a bill that is so vacuous and watered down as to be relatively meaningless? My hope is that as this bill and the accompanying bill in the Senate move forward, advocates and members of Congress will grow a spine and call out the more egregious aspects of both bills so that we can hopefully end up with a final bill that means something.

HR 2646 Attempts to Address a Management Issue Through Legislation
Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote:

For the past two years, there has been a constant drumbeat from members of Representative Murphy’s committee that the Administrator of SAMHSA had been a major obstacle to getting committee questions answered about how SAMHSA approaches its responsibilities...

Frustrated as they might be, Congress can’t “fire” Administrator Hyde, as the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch dictates that while Congress has the authority to investigate and allocate funds, the power to replace senior leadership is the purview of the Executive Branch. However, there is nothing to stop Congress from abolishing the position of the SAMHSA Administrator. No position, no Hyde.

Fast forward to today and former Administrator Hyde is gone and the recommendation to replace the SAMHSA Administrator with an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse remains. The question we need to ask ourselves as advocates, and then ask our elected officials, Is this the most prudent way to deal with a management issue? Do we need an “extreme makeover” because we are frustrated with the SAMHSA Administrator? Is this the way Congress should address frustration with Executive Branch management issues in the future? This is a dangerous precedent to set. I encourage you to read a post I wrote last year that provides some historical context for the dangerous folly behind this proposed action:

Empty Promise to Providers 
Adding to the significant lack of awareness in this bill of what is needed to achieve meaningful mental health reform is the stripping of the few key elements of earlier versions of the bill that could potentially make a difference at the local level, most notably the provisions based on the Excellence in Mental Health Act and the Mental Health First Aid Act. Also, once again, parity took a back seat as Rep. Joe Kennedy's (D-MA) amendment based on his parity enforcement legislation, the Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act (H.R. 4276), was withdrawn, as was Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) amendment based on the Mental Health in Schools Act (S. 1588/H.R. 1211).

It is interesting to note that The National Council for Behavioral Health has been a primary force in encouraging members of Congress to include provisions in the Excellence in Mental Health Act and the Mental Health First Aid Act. The Council's membership is comprised of organizations who provide the services that will ultimately make a difference with whatever mental health legislation is passed. Maybe the Council ought to be listened to just a bit more when it comes to understanding the realities of implementation.

Empty Promise to Families
I continue to be haunted by the speeches that politicians make, preying on the horror and tragedies faced by so many families in the wake of the continued onslaught of public massacres in America. Every time I read a news account of a politician telling families who have suffered unimaginable loss that HR 2646 will prevent a Columbine, a Sandy Hook, or an Orlando, my stomach turns. And so should yours.

Statement by Congressman Tim Murphy during the markup of HR 2646 
“For those children and families, we made a promise: we’re going to fix the broken mental health system. For those innocent people in a movie theatre in Aurora, the grocery store in Tucson, wherever the perpetrator was someone with severe mental illness, for victims and their families we made a promise to deliver treatment before tragedy.” 
~ Representative Tim Murphy, PA ~ 

Over the past few years, the Children's Mental Health Network has featured posts by family members who are in staunch support of HR 2646. Wonderful advocates like Liza Long (The Anarchist Soccer Mom) and Dottie Pacharis, speak from the perspective of parents who have experienced tragedies that none of us would want, or I could even begin to imagine. We owe it to the Dotties and Liza's across America to not passively sit by and support a bill just because it is "better than nothing." Speak your mind, Network faithful. Now is not a time for celebration. Now is a time for doubling down and holding politicians feet to the fire. Empty promises help no one.

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Scott Bryant-Comstock
President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network


  1. Scott Bryant-Comstock's avatar
    Scott Bryant-Comstock
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    Enjoying the spirited dialogue. To clarify one of the comments below, the Children's Mental Health Network does not take money from SAMHSA. You can read more about the history of the Network in the "About" section on our website. Heck, if you are inspired by our story, make a donation. Those are funds we will gladly accept!
  2. Uzza's avatar
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    DJ Jaffe: You are a joke. Or employed by one of the "advocacy" organizations that are getting paid to support these bills. Talk all you want bro, we know who is standing up for us and who the paid shills are. Scott = keeping it 100% and you = Shill.
  3. Jammie Gardner's avatar
    Jammie Gardner
    | Permalink
    Mr. DJ Jaffe, it is interesting that as an apparent E.D. of another non-profit you would jump out mudslinging at CMHN. In fact, I would call you unprofessional and juvenile in your attempts to comment here. As a family member and advocate, I have appreciated Scott's commitment to shining a light on the issues and stepping forward from the beginning to create opportunities for discussion that are unbiased and working for solutions. Let's be honest here, this bill is still a mess and passing it before working out the complex issues is well, I believe irresponsible. I do, however, personally understand the desperation to make any change in our systems that will begin to address the poor outcomes we see daily in our homes, communities and nation. Thank you, Scott, for your continued dedication to what has seemed at times an impossible task in the pursuit of change and better outcomes for all.
  4. Dennis Embry's avatar
    Dennis Embry
    | Permalink
    And, DJ, to copy a phrase from Ronald Reagan, "There you go again." Ah, you compared Scott to Donald Trump and the Scots, "Who are going crazy over Brexit when the Scots voted for it (Brexit)." It is good to check your references and metaphors.

    As a matter of record, easily verified on the BBC website, "Scotland has voted in favour of the UK staying in the EU by 62% to 38% - with all 32 council areas backing Remain."

    And by the way, we've not been able find the Federally Required report on the contributions to your non-profit or its officers. People who accuse others of conflict of interest often use that to cover their own issues. And yes, I contribute money and time to the Children's Mental Health Network, to the National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health, and other related causes. Neither I nor my company accept any funds from drug companies. And yes, DJ mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders are preventable (not in every case), just read the 2009 IOM Report. The research has gotten better since then (e.g., Aminger et al., 7-year followup of preventing first episode psychosis. And for the record, I gave help to get the Treatment Advocacy to get Assisted Outcome Patient Treatment on NREPP. However, it is not based on high-quality randomized treatment or comparative treatment research. It did need to be on NREPP. And, one should not over promise was is not proven.
  5. DJ Jaffe's avatar
    DJ Jaffe
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    Really? You said, "We owe it to the Dotties and Liza's across America to not passively sit by and support a bill just because it is "better than nothing." But both Dottie and Liza support the bill, so taking their name to further your agenda feels very Donald Trumpy. Kind of like "The Scots are going crazy over Brexit" when Scots voted for it. You also should have disclosed the conflict of interest by disclosing the SAMHSA money received by CNMH and members. The bill is a good one and the mental health industry's only objections is to those provisions that would require them to serve the seriously ill, or let families help seriously ill loved ones.
  6. Jim Hajny's avatar
    Jim Hajny
    | Permalink
    Well said Scott. Finally the truth about the Murphy Bill!
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