Mental healthcare system needs major improvements

According to James Pavle, director of the treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va., there were 3,000 severely mentally ill patients’ to every hospital bed in 2005. People with paranoid schizophrenia or bipolar illness desperately need long-term hospital care, but for many, it is just not available. Are some of these patients part of the rash of violence plaguing the country today?

Antipsychotic medications developed decades ago, though not a cure, allow many patients to function more fully in society. Those with severe mental illness who were prescribed these medicines were also meant to be cared for by community mental health centers, yet few go for treatment. Patients will sometimes go off their medication because they feel well or deny that they are ill, while some would rather not deal with any side effects. Many mental health and legal professionals say patients have a right to be sick or mentally ill, “as long as they are not a danger to themselves or others.”  

How did we get on this track? The Supreme Court in 1975 restricted involuntary hospitalization in O’Connor v. Donaldson. Treatments must take place in the “least restrictive environment.” Once a severely mentally ill person is released from the hospital, no one can force him or her to take medication. 

We need to re-examine federal court decisions establishing rights restricting involuntary treatment. We should replace “least restrictive environment” with “most therapeutic environment” to balance the interests of the patient with public safety. Those released from hospitals must continue treatment as an outpatient even after the crisis is over. State hospitals need to be re-expanded with the acceptance that patients some may need long-term care. We need to improve the mental healthcare system, or we as a society will continue to pay a high price, and the violence that has become so much a part of our lives may continue to grow. 

From Melinda Khan, Roselle Park, N.J.  

Bill on school abstinence education should pass 

I welcome a constructive discussion on the important issue of sexual risk avoidance education. Such a discussion, however, should include an accurate portrayal of H.R. 718, the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act. I would like to clarify any misconceptions about this bipartisan legislation (“GOP lawmaker seeks $550M grant to promote abstinence in teens,” March 4).

In these tight economic times, H.R. 718 does not spend one additional dime of taxpayer money. It simply permits the secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants on a competitive basis from existing funds to public and private entities to provide qualified sexual risk avoidance education to youth and their parents.

Currently, 95 percent of federal sex education funding in the fiscal 2012 budget is devoted to contraceptive-centered education. H.R. 718 provides more balanced funding for risk avoidance education. Educating our youth on avoiding risks associated with sexual behavior is a viable approach and one that parents of youth support. It should receive a greater proportion of available funding.

H.R. 718 helps augment resources dedicated to offering a comprehensive sex education policy. It does so without spending any new money. We all should want our children to have the best chance for optimal health. H.R. 718 provides such an avenue.

From Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), Washington, D.C.

President Obama must reject Keystone pipeline

For the third time, the State Department has issued an environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, and once again, the analysis ignores the massive impacts the project would have on both sides of the border.

In Canada, the pipeline would mean more tar sands drilling that’s destroying boreal forests and pushing woodland caribou herds to extinction. In America’s heartland, the toxic oil would threaten the rivers and wetlands upon which critically endangered whooping cranes depend. Perhaps most alarmingly, the review fails to account for the enormous contribution of carbon-intensive tar sands to climate change.

By rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and continuing his work on clean energy, President Obama can make good on his promise to make climate change a national priority. Our wildlife and future generations of Americans are depending on him.

From Robyn Carmichael, Washington, D.C.

Ask your congressman to support Fair Tax act

America works when Americans work. We have driven out of America millions of jobs over the last 30 years because we can’t compete with countries that have lower costs of doing business. Our wages, benefits, regulations and taxes all contribute to driving the cost of doing business up. Consequently, jobs go elsewhere. 

There is a bill in Congress, H.R. 25, that resurrects America as arguably the most cost-competitive place to do business in the world, the Fair Tax bill. No more federal tax on income — your gross pay is your take-home pay. Taxes to fund the government are generated by taxing consumption of new goods and services. To help citizens pay this tax, a prebate is paid monthly to all legal Americans. No favors for special interests, everyone is treated the same. Manufacturers worldwide would flock to the USA to build factories. Good-paying jobs would return. Call your congressman today and ask him to support the bill.

From Anthony Gasbarro, Fairhope, Ala.