Senators Coburn and Lee Block Bill to Aid Mentally Ill

Friday, December 27, 2013
Sen. Tom Coburn

Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress support legislation designed to bolster mental health programs in the United States. But the bill is being held up in the Senate, where two GOP members oppose the idea of federal assistance for the mentally ill.


The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act (S. 162) would allocate $40 million for mental health courts, create more crisis intervention teams to work with law enforcement, and provide military veterans with better screening for mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction.


The measure would also help police academies better train cadets to effectively respond to mentally ill people, and improve screening services for evaluating the mental health of new inmates.


The legislation currently has 13 Republican cosponsors in the Senate and 14 GOP cosponsors in the House. Along with 17 Democratic senators signed on, the measure enjoys strong bipartisan support.


But GOP Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah have used procedural rules to prevent the full Senate from taking a vote on the bill, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.


Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota), a chief co-sponsor of the bill, has not singled out Coburn and Lee publicly as the obstructionists. But he did tell the Star Tribune that the senators are being heavily lobbied to stop blocking the measure.


“There is pressure from law enforcement groups and attorneys from within his state for him to not block the bill,” Franken said of one of the senators during an interview with the newspaper. “I think we’ll get there, but right now there is a hold on the bill.”


Coburn has been an obstacle before on mental health legislation.


In 2007, Congress adopted the Joshua Omvig Veterans' Suicide Prevention Act, named after a soldier who killed himself following his service in Iraq.


But before the Senate approved what was considered the first-ever veterans’ mental health bill, Coburn forced his colleagues to remove two provisions: one requiring all veterans seeking medical help at a VA hospital or healthcare facility to receive a mental health evaluation; the other mandating that the VA track veterans who receive mental health care.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Two Senators Block Franken's Mental Health Bill (by Paul McEnroe, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

S. 162: Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013 (


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