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General News    H3'ed 9/7/11

Carson City: Mental Illness Compromises National Security

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Historically, the argument to provide better treatment for individuals with serious mental illness has been made in terms of reducing the 5,000 suicides, 1000 homicides, 175,000 homeless, 218,000 incarcerations and $100 billion spent on mental illness and mental health. 
But the shooting of eleven individuals and death of three uniformed members of the National Guard at a Carson City IHOP by Edwardo Sencion shows it may be time to look at the national security implications of letting people with serious mental illness go untreated.
According to Lake Tahoe News, "Sencion has had mental issues since at least April 2000. That is when South Lake Tahoe police officers assisted with getting him committed to receive psychiatric care." 
The shooting of uniformed members of the National Guard, is just the most recent example of untreated serious mental illness driving otherwise lovable but nondescript individuals to attack institutions that provide for our national security: 
  • President Ronald Reagan was shot by mentally John Hinckley in an attempt to get a date with Jodie Foster
  • President James Garfield was killed by mentally ill Charles Guiteau
  • President Andrew Jackson was shot by mentally ill Richard Lawson
  • President Theodore Roosevelt was shot by a mentally ill man who said a ghost told him to shoot.
  • Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot by Jared Loughner who has been ordered to receive treatment for mental illness
  • Before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, he escaped an planned assassination by mentally ill Richard Pavlick
  • Russel Weston shot two security officers at the US Capital Building and was found incompetent to stand trial
  • John Patrick Bedell who shot up the Pentagon had a history of mental illness that led his parents to warn authorities about him.
  • Americans learned to fear the US Postal Service after mentally ill Unabomber Ted Kacynski used it to carry letter bombs.
  • Preventing mentally ill individuals from scaling White House fences has become a routine part of Secret Service training.
  • On the local level, police are routinely killed by people with mental illness or feel compelled to shoot first.
Clearly, untreated serious mental illness is having a profound effect on our national security.
Improving treatment for the most seriously ill is not only the right thing to do for them, it would help all of us. More money is not needed. Polices to spend it smarter are.
  • The money the federal government and state governments provide for mental 'health' is inversely prioritized: it goes to the least ill first, and the most severely ill last.  That has to change.
  • Government agencies, like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) waste money. The agency should be eliminated and the funds reallocated.
  • Programs at the local level that send the seriously ill to the back of the line rather than the front should be replace with programs willing to prioritize the most seriously ill.
  • The Medicaid Policy ("IMD Exclusion") that gives states a financial incentive to discharge the most seriously ill sicker and quicker should be eliminated.
  • State involuntary treatment laws that require individuals to be 'danger to self or others' before they can receive care should be replace with laws that prevent violence, rather than require it.
  • State Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws that allow judges to require potentially violent mentally ill individuals to stay in treatment as a condition for living in the community should be vigorously enforced.
Taking better care of those who can't help themselves is what a kind, compassionate and humane civilization should be doing. Failing to do so is bringing both our morality and our safety into question.
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DJ Jaffe is a long-time advocate for people with very serious mental illness. He has written for NY Times, WSJ, Wash Post and others. He blogs on mental illness on Huffington Post
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