There's little doubt that alleged Washington D.C. Naval yard shooter Aaron Alexis had serious mental problems, and had them for some time. If Alexis had not been a veteran and received treatment at the VA, as reported, there's also little doubt that he might have been out of luck in seeking treatment. He could thank GOP congressional and state leaders for that. For much of the past decade, they have been relentless in opposing increased mental health funding. The starting point is the Affordable Care Act. GOP House representatives and a number of GOP senators have waged mortal combat against the Act.
House Republicans have voted 40 times to repeal outright or defund the Act. A portion of the Act expands Medicaid to include coverage for more lower income and middle class persons. Medicaid is the single biggest funding program for mental care programs and treatment in the nation. The elimination of the Act would knock out not only more billions for mental health care and treatment but shrink the number of facilities available to those needing care. Before the GOP waged war on the Act, it fought just as hard against the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act in 2008. The law mandated that health insurance companies provide coverage for mental health services at the same level that it covers physical illnesses and injuries. A number of House Republicans opposed the law. Despite their obstructionism it passed and President Bush signed it into law.
State GOP officials have been no better. They have proposed budgets that drastically cut funding for mental health care in several states. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is a case in point. At the same time that he now proposes a sharp increase in state funding for mental health care, between 2009 and 2011 on his watch Wisconsin cut more than $100 million from mental health funds.
GOP senators also have proposed several measures to improve mental health care treatment, including funding for community mental health care centers. But their newfound championing of increased mental health funding is hardly an epiphany. Walker and GOP House and Senate Republicans are playing a cynical game with mental health care. They are using it as a false flag to torpedo the effort by President Obama and Senate Democrats to pass tough gun control restrictions. They have missed no chance to rail against gun control when they tout their mental health care proposals. At the state level, Walker took it a step further in proposing his budget increase for mental health services when he made the ridiculous analogy that banning certain types of firearms, meaning assault weapons, would drive the mentally unstable to use dynamite against innocents.
The irony in the GOP's hypocrisy on mental health care is that there's no evidence that the mentally and emotionally impaired are poised to wreak wholesale havoc on innocents. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that those with serious mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of violence than the general population. The overwhelming majority of the more than 10,000 murders committed in the nation on average yearly are committed by those with no history of mental illness.
However, these aren't the murders that draw non-stop, wall-to-wall headlines, and endless sensationalist coverage, it's the mass killings committed by men such as Alexis that do. They are the ones who are likely to suffer from severe mental challenges and they are the ones who when the danger signs flare about their behavior are the ones that most need the sustained care to treat their problems. This can only happen if the resources for that care are available. It's absolutely crucial that those resources for that care are there and available to them.
The GOP's sudden discovery that there is a great need for more funding for that care is commendable. What's not is that it would try to sell the public on the notion that increasing that care makes it unnecessary to pass gun legislation that would do much to insure that individuals such as Alexis do not have ready access to guns that they can use to wreak murder and mayhem on innocents. Now that the GOP claims that they want to see more done to treat the mentally ill the true test will be how hard they'll fight for that. The even bigger test is whether they will end their war against the one measure that makes that care available to countless other Americans, and that's the ACA. When that happens then the untold numbers of men such as Alexis who are not fortunate enough to have access to a VA facility and that need help may have a fighting chance to get it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. His latest ebook '47 Percent Negro': A Chronicle of the Wackiest Racial Assaults on President Obama is now available (Amazon).