Lobbying in DC

By April 2, 2014Blog

The first impression that struck me when I was in D.C. at the Capitol was how much better the politicians look on TV! I think they should wear their TV makeup all the time and someone should hand out Tic Tacs. I won’t reveal names but I wonder how many votes are lost to halitosis. So, those being the first impressions, the rest of the visit was great.

Glenn, Calen and I were in D.C. to receive recognition from Research! America but ended up lobbying for mental health, specifically for a program called the Excellence in Mental Health Act sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow. Eight states will be chosen for a pilot program.  This program would pick up where Ronald Reagan’s program ended. He closed hundreds of mental health facilities with the intention to open state facilities where none existed. But these facilities were never built. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many mentally ill on our streets, remember Reagan and how he jumped the gun to kick the mentally ill out of their facilities before the state clinics were built.

I had never been in the tunnels that run under the streets and up into our Capital buildings and was quite amazed by them.  We got to ride in the little train that runs through the tunnels and I felt like I was at Disneyland.  As soon as voting began no one was allowed on the train but Congressmen/women.  So we walked and walked and WALKED!!!  Luckily, I was wearing my TOM’S tiger print shoes and my feet stayed blister free.  What really got to me in a serious way, and forced me inward, was the noise! The halls echoed with literally hundreds of voices and the thousands of footsteps drowned out my own thoughts. It was all I could do to stop myself from fleeing the building. Usually, when I feel like I have to get away from noise or just feel uncomfortable around people, I find a Ladies Room. That was not happening here. We were escorted here and there and everywhere at such a fast pace I wouldn’t have had time for a pit stop say nothing of just a stop to escape reality!

The last and maybe the most important room we were ushered into was beautiful with a very long table taking up the center. This was Representative Dave Camp’s territory. He heads up the Ways and Means Committee. He greeted us then sat and listened while we told him how important the Excellence in Mental Health Act is for all of us. We talked about how fortunate Calen and I are to come from a family who got us the best care and that excellent care is what needs to be available to everyone and that’s what we’re fighting for.

So, my first lesson in lobbying was exciting, uncomfortable, eye-opening, fascinating.  I have a feeling that the noise has always been there in those rooms, in the tunnels too, even in the very beginning of this wonderful country of ours. They are the sounds of trying to get something done.  The Excellence in Mental Health Act is one of the most important Acts written to try to help our country’s mentally ill. If lobbying is rushing around to speak to as many as possible, well… we did it! The Three Musketeers on the Hill! All I know is 30 years after Reagan we’re still trying to get those state clinics for the mentally ill going.

Then yesterday we heard that the Act had PASSED!!! We also heard that Rep. Camp was impressed with Calen!!! Go Calen! Rep. Camp was inspired by the fact that Calen is married, that he was there in D.C. to promote the Act, that he’s a working artist, that he is well spoken, that there’s nothing about him that “looks” mentally ill.

Calen has come such a long way. He talks below:
I’m glad that there are so many dedicated advocates for mental health among our leaders. I’m even more impressed by their recent victory, passing the “Exellence in Mental Health Care Act”.

When I lost my mind I became scared of everything, experiencing the kind of fear that simply dominated.  Fear was the most powerful force behind my psychosis, or as I sometimes explain it, free association of ideas and experiences resulting in abstraction of thought.

Now imagine being that scared, then being locked into a ward.  Imprisoned, although for only several weeks, by those who only seem to be interested in what is going on in your chaotic mind.

I know that the facility I signed myself into was of relatively high standards, but it still had a feeling of sterility and coldness.  To give an idea of the conditions some with mental illness face, just know that the largest mental health facilities in our states are federal prisons.

I’m excited to see what can be done to the system with increased funding.  More people will be able to get help to work on themselves and hopefully recover to the point of attaining happiness.

So I, for one, say to our leaders  “ Thanks for all the hard work and for agreeing to help so many”.

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