Promising bipartisan and bicameral federal legislation is now moving its way through the U.S. Senate to provide states short-term mental health and trauma support resources for survivors and first responders of Emergency Declarations, in addition to Major Disaster Declarations.
U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC), recently introduced the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act, legislation that would expand eligibility for Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP).
The legislation would enable states to obtain reimbursement for trauma or mental health services delivered after Emergency Declarations. It was originally introduced in the U.S. House in October 2021 by Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Dina Titus (D-NV-01), David McKinley (R-WV-01) and Peter Meijer (R-MI-03).
“Natural disasters and mass violence like the Boston Marathon bombing are disruptive and traumatic life events that can have a devastating impact on one’s mental health—but far too many people who survive these tragedies can’t access the critical mental health services offered by FEMA,” said Rep. Pressley. “Our bill would help survivors of all disasters access these critical resources, and I’m proud to see the momentum building in Congress.”
There have been over 4,000 Emergency Declarations in 37 states – 72 percent of Congressional districts – over the last decade, according to FEMA’s database, which included winter storms, hurricanes and terrorism (e.g., the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013).
“It was a struggle to find support after the bombing – I felt left out of the response, and that my experience didn’t count because I didn’t have physical wounds,” said Manya Chylinski, survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing. “This bill is a critical step to recognizing and validating the experiences of survivors without visible injuries; and to enabling communities to meet the mental health needs of all those impacted by disaster.”
“We applaud Congress for helping more survivors and first responders access mental health services integral to healing and building resilience,” said Jesse Kohler, Executive Director of the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP), which has endorsed the legislation. “Disaster can strike anywhere, and trauma can impact everyone, so this is a unifying policy issue. With adequate resources, we can mitigate mental health challenges and suffering, as well as the costs they impose at all levels of government. We urge every member of Congress to support this critically important legislation.”
In addition to CTIPP, this legislation is endorsed by National Association of EMTs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Counties, American Psychological Association, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, American Mental Wellness Association, Children’s Hospital Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), American College of Emergency Physicians, Iowa Primary Care Association, Gundersen Health System, Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action, Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), Inseparable, Association of Behavioral Healthcare, Center for Law and Social Policy, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Riverside Community Care, and Team Rubicon.