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Monday, October 22, 2012

Remembering Paul Wellstone - The Senator, An Advocate For Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act

, former member of the United States Senate fr...
Paul Wellstone former member of the United States Senate from Minnesota. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you suffer from addiction and/or co-occurring mental health issues or you have a child who is diagnosed with either, then there is a good chance that you are familiar with the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. But you may not realize that it was 10 years ago this week, specifically October 25, when Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the 2002 US Senate Election.

Remembering Paul Wellstone

Though gone now almost ten years, Paul Wellstone is remembered for many projects and causes that he diligently fought to bring to the public's awareness. But it was his awareness of how impactful a mental health disorder can be to the person and his/her family (Wellstone's older brother suffered from crippling depression) that inspired him to work tirelessly for mental health parity and addiction equity.

Sometimes the wheels of legislation turn slowly. According to a October 12, 2012, Huffington Post article: "In 1995 Wellstone and Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, co-sponsored a bill that would require insurance companies to provide mental health patients with the same level of care as those suffering from physical illnesses."  And it took until 2008, six years after his passing, for the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 to be passed by both houses of Congress. In case you are counting...that is 13 years!

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (a part of Division C) mandates that if U.S. health insurance companies provide coverage for mental health and substance abuse, the coverage must be equal for conditions such as psychological disorders, alcoholism, and drug addiction.

Senator Wellstone's son, David Wellstone continues his father's work

It is important to remember that on the plane crash that took the life of David Wellstone's father also took the life of his mother Sheila Wellstone and his younger sister, Marcia Wellstone. David was devastated, as was his younger brother, Mark Wellstone. David retreated; he stayed out of the public spotlight for five years until he was asked to testify before the US Congress in July 2007. And testify he did saying of his father's work: "Although he was passionate on many issues, there was not another issue that surpassed this in terms of his passion."

Now David Wellstone has written a book: "Becoming Wellstone: Healing from Tragedy and Carrying on My Father's Legacy." 

CBS Minnesota recently interviewed David:
If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

David recently founded a nonprofit group, the Wellstone Mental Health Initiative, which is pushing for a federal rule that will put teeth in the mental health parity legislation. The Post-Bulletin quotes David Wellstone:

"It's like my dad used to tell me and others. Folks with mental illness and addiction are a besieged minority. They are struggling with their own struggles, don't have a lot of political clout," he said. "So if I can help in that field and do good work on the policy side, then that's what I'll do." 

In closing...

Senator Paul Wellstone worked for all people suffering from addiction and mental health issues...his work also has helped parents as they seek treatment for their children. We are hopeful the fruits of his labor will continue to help establish parity and we are thankful for David Wellstone's willingness to continue working on this goal.

As we close today remembering Senator Paul Wellstone, we would also like to recognize the passing of Senator George S. McGovern who lost two children to the disease of addiction and also worked as an advocate for families touched by mental health issues and alcoholism. 

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