Behavioral health matters because it is as important as physical health, and affects everyone regardless of age, race, or wealth. The behavioral health of one individual can have an impact on their children, their spouse, their friends, and their co-workers. Behavioral health is increasingly a challenge for children and veterans. As the son of a Vietnam veteran, I saw my father go years undiagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a veteran myself, I am greatly concerned that 22 veterans succumb to suicide each day.
There needs to be regular awareness to identify and address behavioral health issues. Like my father for many years, many individuals go untreated because they lack access to affordable care. The stigma associated with behavioral health can also make it difficult for many to seek care. Identifying and addressing behavioral health issues helps our communities succeed by preventing those from falling victim to crime or suicide.
Federal, state, county, and local officials in California need to work together toward policies and funding that would increase access to care for those with mental health and substance use challenges. In Congress, I commit to fighting to bring federal resources to California and working with local health care professionals to increase awareness and access to support services. We need to increase education on behavioral and mental health services and help make Californians aware of available care. We need to address California’s shortage of mental health professionals. I’ve heard too many stories of our college students seeking professional help, only to be told there was no availability. We also need to protect access to behavioral health coverage that was given to many through the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
I understand that servicemen and women across the nation struggle to gain access to healthcare when it matters most. Veterans are waiting for seven, eight, and sometimes even nine months for an appointment at the VA. The facilities are already working with limited funding, and now some Congressional leaders want to make further cuts. It is vital that veterans have immediate access to the physical, mental, and emotional care they need upon returning from combat zones. I will fight for increased funding to the VA, which will ensure that veterans are receiving the top-quality care and services that they need.
Stigma and misunderstandings associated with behavioral health need to end. Behavioral health issues must be brought out of the shadows and publicly discussed. In Congress, I will use my office to raise public awareness and help eradicate the stigma associated with behavioral health. California must support open dialogue on behavioral and mental health in order to educate the public and encourage those facing behavioral health issues to seek help.
As a veteran and son of a veteran, I understand the importance of making behavioral policy a priority. Through my foundation’s work in education, I have seen the challenges that students face. Many of our scholarship recipients want and need support services. My wife and I created the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute at George Washington University to help provide students with a support system so they could thrive in college away from home. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting I have been a supporter of the Gifford’s Courage to Fight Gun Violence and believe that behavioral health should be included in the conversation on gun violence prevention. It is heartbreaking that guns are responsible for over 50% of suicide deaths.
Behavioral health plays a role across policy issues, from veteran affairs, to education, to gun safety, and many more. We need to work together to elevate behavioral health as a policy priority. I commit to embracing behavioral health as a public policy priority in Congress, and will champion behavioral health policy that provides prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery support for Californians.