November 01, 2015

ABA opposes provisions that would restrict advocacy and litigation on behalf of mentally ill

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved a comprehensive mental health bill this month that includes provisions opposed by the ABA to amend the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental illness Act (PAIMI) to restrict programs under the act from engaging in advocacy and litigation on behalf of individuals with serious mental illness.

H.R. 2646, the proposed “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015,” would mandate that protection and advocacy activities under PAIMI be exclusively focused on abuse and neglect. The ABA maintains that this would block Protection and Advocacy agencies (P&As) funded under the act from serving some of the most vulnerable citizens.

Currently, PAIMI requires that P&As in every state and territory protect and advocate for the rights of individuals with mental illness and investigate incidents of abuse and neglect of these individuals in all public and private facilities and in community settings. The agencies also have the authority to provide legal representation and other advocacy services to people with severe mental disabilities.

In a Nov. 4 letter to subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Ranking Member Gene Green (D-Texas), ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman said that during the past year P&As under the PAIMI program provided essential information and referral services for 32,798 individuals with mental illness and provided training for over 80,000 individual, family members, mental health planners and social services professionals.

Under the legislation, these services would be restricted, along with other critical legal services to thousands of individuals regarding issues such as inappropriate or excessive medication, lack of appropriate mental health treatment, financial exploitation, need for transportation to or from residential care facilities, admission to residential care facilities, discharge planning, housing and employment discrimination, and denial of visitors.

Susman emphasized the importance of the programs. “As a result of PAIMI programs, tens of thousands of children have received the services that they need to gain full and equal access to education, health care, independent living and employment,” he wrote.

Subcommittee approval of the bill by a vote of 18-12, with only one Democrat voting in favor of the measure, came after a marathon markup session where the committee rejected numerous amendments.

The ABA supported an amendment offered by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) that would have removed the PAIMI language. The subcommittee rejected the Pallone amendment by a narrow 13-14 vote.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) indicated that more compromises may be made on the bill before it reaches the full committee.

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