Section Chair's Column

Vol. 10 No. 3

AuthorAs I write my November column over Veterans’ Day weekend, I am reminded of the multiple challenges confronting our service men and women. Not only must they overcome obstacles on the battlefield, but many continue to experience ongoing hurdles once they return home. One of the biggest challenges our veterans often face includes finding adequate, effective healthcare, especially for mental health issues and substance use disorders.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)1 notes that substance abuse by returning veterans is on the rise, with alcohol abuse being the most prevalent problem.  A recent study of soldiers screened after returning from Iraq noted that 27 percent met criteria for alcohol abuse, with few receiving referral for screening or treatment.  NIDA also noted that mental illness among military personnel is a major concern as well and is often accompanied by drug and alcohol abuse.2  This is an area that one of the newest groups to the Health Law Section, the Substance Use Disorders Task Force, has been working to address. 

The Task Force was originally created by the ABA in 1990 as the Special Committee on the Drug Crisis to address problems and policies regarding illegal drug use.  The group became an ABA Standing Committee focusing its efforts on programs and policies that offer long term solutions to the nation’s drug problems.  Topics included discrimination against individuals in treatment or recovery, alternatives to incarceration, drug courts and treatment services for drug dependent persons in the criminal justice system, as well as education, prevention and treatment programs especially for children and young people.  In 2012, the group moved to the Health Law Section and became an HLS Task Force.  In addition to the task force members, the group works closely with an advisory board comprised of individuals who are experts in the field of substance abuse and recovery and the criminal justice system. 

There are more than 100 members of the task force including its leadership team.*  Membership is open to all members of the Health Law Section, particularly those with an interest in legal issues related to substance use disorders, including healthcare reform and parity, legislation, public policy and its impact on the criminal justice system, and healthcare. The mission of the Task Force is to develop and foster attorney and public participation in innovative programs to address substance use disorders, including programs in healthcare, mental health, alternative medicine, education, family dynamics, business and the justice system, and to examine the effects of substance use disorders upon society, the practice of law and the character of the American system of justice.

The Task Force has been very active since joining the Health Law Section.  It sponsored a plenary program at the February 2013 EMI conference entitled: Our Nation’s Veterans Courts and Criminal Justice System: A Public Health Policy Approach, which highlighted the challenges faced by veterans seeking treatment.  The Task Force also sponsored a breakout session entitled Prescription Drug Abuse: Prevalence and Policy Solutions.  Subsequent to EMI, the Task Force championed passage of ABA Resolution 101 by the ABA House of Delegates, which supports the rights of all Americans, and particularly our nation’s veterans, to access adequate mental health and substance use disorder treatment services and coverage as required to be made available under federal and state law. 

The Task Force will sponsor a webinar on December 13, 2013 to discuss the recently published final rule implementing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) (45 C.F.R. Parts 146 and 147,November 8, 2013), which ensures that health plans' features are not more restrictive for mental health/substance abuse disorders benefits than they are for medical/surgical benefits.  If you are interested in the work of the Task Force on Substance Use Disorders and would like to become involved, please contact Naomi Shicly, Program Specialist, at

*It is with deep regret that we inform you of the passing of Ed Jurith, the the chair of the Task Force, on November 10, 2013. To celebrate his life with us, please see this article from the White House.

Washington Health Law Summit

If you have not yet registered for this year’s Washington Health Law Summit, what are you waiting for??  This outstanding program, in its eleventh year, provides the latest information on legislative and policy developments as well as updates on the implementation of significant healthcare initiatives by key government agencies including HHS, CMS, IRS, DOJ and OIG.  It offers a unique opportunity for members of both the private and public sectors to interact and discuss the state of health law. 

The program, sponsored by the Health Law Section and co-sponsored by the Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division, will be held on December 9-10, 2013 at Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. Co-Chairs Michelle Apodaca and Andrew Gantt and their hard working Planning Committee have put together what promises to be an exceptional program.  Sessions will cover such wide-ranging topics as the patient centered family medical home, health insurance exchanges, new compliance obligations after the Affordable Care Act, and data security and privacy, to name just a few.  Annual favorites to return include the Attorneys General Perspective from the states and the Congressional Roundtable, where senior Capitol Hill healthcare staff will discuss prospects for the legislative agenda of Congress. This year’s Keynote speaker will be Keith J. Fontenot, former Associate Director for Health, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) where he was the OMB policy lead for health reform for key HHS components including Medicare and Medicaid, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, Health information Technology, and other HHS health-related programs.  He played an integral part in developing the specifics of the Affordable Care Act, and should offer a fascinating perspective on the current state of the law’s implementation.

This is a truly unique conference, not only because of the involvement of government attorneys and policymakers who speak at the various sessions, but also because of the large number of government attorneys who come as attendees. The conference offers an opportunity for all attendees to hear what the policy considerations were in developing various initiatives as well as the challenges facing those who may be charged with implementing and enforcing the new laws.  If you have not done so, I urge you to register now

1Topics In Brief:  Substance Abuse among the Military, Veterans and their families, April, 2011,  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the Federal focal point for research on drug abuse and addiction and is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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