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Happy Emancipation Day! Happy Visitation Rights Day!

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s only a government holiday for the District of Columbia, but it’s a very special one. It’s also extra awesome since Jim gets the day off as a District government employee.

Emancipation Day in a nutshell:

On April 16, 1862, more than eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln signed the act that freed the slaves in the District, and we mark the day to celebrate freedom and reflect on the unfinished work in the pursuit of equal rights.

It’s an important day for the District especially considering the advancements DC voting rights activists have made in the last few years. The holiday is also especially prescient given the news earlier this week that the DC Voting Rights Act is going to receive a floor vote in the House probably late next week….oh and it will be debated with that wretched gun amendment attached to it, too.

[Del. Eleanor Holmes] Norton said that the bill, which would grant the residents of Washington a voting member of Congress, would include a provision enhancing gun owners’ rights in the District, a measure Norton had resisted including.

I’ve got to hand it to Norton on this one. She has proven to be a highly effective voice for the District on this issue and she has been especially strategic about leveraging the political capital her party in the House gained after the 2006 elections and especially after the 2008 elections.

Together with DC Vote, Norton has put together the first bill in a long time that has any hope of passing. Surely the gun amendment has been a tough pill to swallow and it has definitely split District residents. Personally, I don’t think we should kill this bill because of the amendment. We’ve come too far in this fight and the rest of America lives with the Second Amendment just fine.

As Michael O’Brien of  The Hill writes:

Norton said that the strength of pro-gun rights forces in Congress had only grown over the past year, and with the specter of reduced Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate looming after this fall’s elections, she planned to proceed with her bill anyway.

‘I have given this fight all that I had. There is nothing left to do but make the hard decision,” she said. “I believe residents would not want us to pass up this once-in-a-life-time opportunity for the vote they have sought for more than two centuries.’

I”ll take the vote and once we have it we can lobby our representative to introduce legislation to change this law.

Other happy news today?

Obama has made more inroads with the gay community with his announcement today that any hospital that accepts Medicare and Medicaid funds must not discriminate in its visitation rights policies. It does not only apply to LGBT Americans, but to all Americans.

From the President’s memo to the Department of Health and Human Services:

Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend. Members of religious orders are sometimes unable to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf. Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.

The president and his staff worked behind the scenes on this one and it’s an awesome move on the Administration’s part.

Is today’s news foreshadowing of more favorable legislation to come i.e. ENDA, DADT….DOMA?

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Happy Spring! It’s About Time

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s a beautiful day in Washington and the city is buzzing with activity.

Congress is voting on health care. I’m sorry my Hill friends have to work this weekend, but it comes with the territory and I’m sure they understand the importance of it. You can follow all the drama on Twitter, which, let’s face it, really is the best way to get information for events that are unfolding. There’s also a march happening today in support of health care reform. I firmly believe we’ll be getting some kind of reform in the coming weeks. Is it a good bill? Meh. But, this is where we are. Let’s get it through and slog through the awful process to fix it. Baby steps, I guess.

DC gays are getting married this weekend here too. They’re trying to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest same-sex wedding ceremony. Congrats to you all! I love living in a city where this is law.

The Young Feminist Leadership Conference is happening in Washington this weekend, too. This should be a good one.

And, the weekend is going to be capped off with a march for immigrant rights. Sadly, I won’t be able to attend, but I hope my brothers and sisters marching know that I am there with them in solidarity. Like health care, this country needs to seriously reform its immigration policy.

And, where will I be this weekend? Enjoying one, possibly two bbq’s. It’s my first for the season and I’m so happy it’s here. Welcome Spring!

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Some Good News for Mental Health Parity

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment

The New York Times reported on Friday that the administration has issued new rules that will ensure mental health coverage for more than 140 million people.

In general, under the rules, employers and group health plans cannot provide less coverage for mental health care than for the treatment of physical conditions like cancer and heart disease.

Insurers cannot set higher co-payments and deductibles or stricter limits on treatment for mental illness and addiction disorders. Nor can they establish separate deductibles for mental health care and for the treatment of physical illnesses.

This law is named for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), both of whom are great advocates for mental health and who worked together for quite some time to get mental health parity passed.

It’s comforting to know that come July 1, there will be more of a safety net for Jim and myself. We won’t expect surprise hospital bills in the mail like we did this month for a hospital visit that happened more than a year ago! We’re still trying to figure out why we got the bill, but suffice it to say that since the visit had to do with a mental health issue, the insurance company decided we should bear more of the brunt of the bill.

Unfortunately, the rules do nothing for the millions more who are still uninsured or who can’t work because of their mental illness. Remember, this rule affects those who are employed at organizations with 50 or more employees. It also doesn’t apply to the individual marketplace, which is still something like shopping for coverage in the wild west.

Now can we have health care?

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What Can Happen When Mental Illness is Ignored

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

I came across a fascinating piece about mental hospitals and the role conscientious objectors to WWII played in exposing the deplorable conditions of said hospitals.

The story focuses on Philadelphia State Hospital, also known as Byberry. More than 3,000 conscientious objectors, or CO’s, were assigned to work at mental hospitals across the country instead of being drafted to fight overseas. What the men assigned to Byberry found were conditions that seemed like something out of a Nazi concentration camp. They also witnessed much abuse from the attendants who were hired to care for the patients.

The “incontinent ward” was what the men called A Building. It was a large open room with a concrete slab for a floor. There were no chairs. There were no activities, no therapy, not even a radio to listen to. So hundreds of men — most of them naked — walked about aimlessly or hunched on the floor and huddled against the filthy bare walls.

Nearby was B Building; it was called the “violent ward” or the “death house,” because angry men sometimes violently attacked one another. In one room, rows and rows of men were strapped and shackled to their bed frames.

The story also includes photos from Charlie Lord. A CO who sneaked a camera into the hospital to document the things going on there.  Check out the slideshow. Lord and the other CO’s featured in the piece were instrumental in improving conditions for mental health hospitals all over the country. They even got a skeptical Eleanor Roosevelt to pay attention to the issue.

According to Steven Taylor, a professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, Roosevelt assumed these were photos from some institution in the South. She said she knew about those kinds of conditions in Mississippi or Alabama. When told that they had actually been taken at an institution in Philadelphia, Roosevelt then promised to support the reform campaign and wrote about what she’d seen to government health officials and journalists.

I can’t say I have much experience with state mental hospitals, but I do have experience with the psych wings of two hospitals. Jim has been hospitalized twice for his bipolar disorder.  I’m glad that the conditions at these hospitals was nothing like what is documented in the NPR story, but I was moved when reading it as I’ve become more sensitive in the last couple of years to mental illness.

The story is a good reminder of what can happen when we forget about our most delicate citizens. It should also serve as a wake-up call to America and Congress to increase funding for mental health hospitals and institutions. At a time when states are facing massive budget shortfalls, it is imperative that resources for these hospitals are kept intact.

Another Byberry is completely beyond the realm of possibility, especially as more and more mental hospitals are forced to close.

The health care reform deal that will be hammered out next week must include increased funding for the states so they can keep their mental hospitals open and so they can provide high quality mental health care to those in need of it most.

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