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Another Mass Shooting Renews Mental Health Debate, Texas Near Bottom In Spending

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Mass casualty shootings inevitably renew debates on gun control and easy access to weapons.  But, from Aurora, Colorado, to Sandy Hook, Connecticut, there is another alarming similarity among these suspects:  mental illness.

“You can get some help,” says John Dornheim, past president of NAMI Dallas, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  “But, can you get enough? No.”

According to NAMI, a staggering one in four Americans is affected by mental illness— that’s more than AIDS, cancer, even heart disease.  Dornheim insists that the mentally ill are not more violent than the general population; but, sufferers do struggle to access adequate services.

“Texas a few years ago was spending $39 per person on mental illness.  Maine was spending $300 per person.  Are we not worthy of as good mental health care as the state of Maine.”

The most recent Texas legislature restored some funding cuts—increasing spending on mental health services by nearly $350 million dollars.  But, advocates say by refusing to invest an additional $1.34 billion over the next three years to expand Medicaid under the guidelines of the Affordable Care Act, $23.94 billion in federal funds was left on the table.

“Frankly, I thought it was irresponsible,” says State Senator Royce West.  “It’s not our job to determine whether or not the federal government is going to have the dollars to fund Medicaid.”

Senator West serves on the Health and Human Services committee and says he and other lawmakers supported language that would have mandated that state funding revert to agreed upon levels if for some reason the federal government failed to fund the additional services as promised.

“But, there was not the political will to do that,” says West. “The governor has his reasons.  I just don’t happen to agree with them.  Those dollars are now going to other states and Texas could have benefited.”

Several years ago, NAMI ranked Texas at the very bottom for per capita spending on mental health.  The situation has since improved slightly, but advocates say Texas is still near the bottom.

“This influx of money that the legislature approved is going to be very positive,” says Dornheim.  “But, it’s going to be hard to make up that lack of funding for all of those years.  Mental illness is one of those things that just doesn’t go away.  We have a sick population here.”

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