NASW joins White House to help reduce gun violence

Joe Biden, Bobby Scott, Kathleen Sebelius From left, Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hold a gun safety discussion on Jan. 25 at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. NASW has been active in recent White House efforts to reduce gun violence, including meeting with Biden’s task force to study the issue and signing support for the Assualt Weapons Ban of 2013. AP Photo

NASW has been active in White House efforts to reduce gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that took place in December in Newtown, Conn.

NASW CEO Elizabeth J. Clark participated in a White House meeting with mental health groups, where she met with Vice President Joe Biden’s task force to study gun violence, including Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder.

NASW also participated in two conference calls — one with Sebelius and the other with the WhitHouse after President Barack Obama announced on Jan. 16 his proposals to reduce gun violence.

Among the president’s goals are passing a bill requiring universal background checks for anyone trying to purchase guns; finalizing mental health parity regulation; and launching a national dialogue on mental health, led by Sebelius and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Clark sent a letter to the president on behalf of the association on Jan. 7. The letter expressed condolences to the Newtown community and stressed the need for greater access to mental health services.

“We have learned from these increasing incidents of deadly violence that mental health prevention and treatment for those that need it most would have been the best investment possible,” Clark stated in the letter. She said the nation needs to treat mental health in the same manner that it treats physical health, and develop a workforce capable of responding to the increased need.

NASW signed its support for two pieces of legislation to prevent further gun-related tragedies. The first, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, was introduced by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Jan. 24. It seeks to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

“I believe this bill is a big step toward ending the mass shootings that have devastated families across the country — from Newtown to Aurora, from Tucson to Virginia Tech, from Columbine to Oak Creek,” Feinstein said at a press conference. “It’s time for Americans to stand up and tell the gun manufacturers that the lives of our children are more important than their profits and get these dangerous weapons out of our schools, our workplaces, our malls and our theaters. It’s time to take action, and we’ll get it done, not matter how long it takes.”

In NASW’s letter of support, Clark states that stricter regulations will allow for a safer America, but she encourages Congress to identify opportunities for investing in greater access to mental health services.

NASW is also backing the Student Support Act (H.R. 320), which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

The bill aims to improve student access to mental health services and would provide grants to states to hire school social workers, school psychologists and school counselors to help reduce the student-to-provider ratio in elementary and secondary schools. NASW’s recommended ratio of one school social worker per 250 students is included in the legislation.

NASW, as a member of the Mental Health Liaison Group, signed a Jan. 14 letter sent to Biden. It urged addressing seven issues to prevent violence and improve access to effective mental health care.

The issues include improving prevention and early identification and intervention in mental health care; mental health and violence-prevention education; school-based mental health services; increasing the qualified mental health workforce; and fully implementing key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including mental health and addictions parity requirements.

NASW also signed a Jan. 18 letter by the MHLG sent to the U.S. House Labor/Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. It asks the subcommittee to seek a minimum of $1.1 billion in total FY 2013 funding for mental health programs and $2.38 billion for substance-use disorder programs under the jurisdiction of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The letter cites a SAMHSA report stating that nearly one half of individuals with severe mental illness do not receive any sort of mental health treatment. In addition, 21.6 million people aged 12 and older need treatment for drug and alcohol use and 8 million adults have a substance use disorder with a co-occurring mental illness.

For the latest updates, visit the NASW advocacy blog.