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SAMHSA News - Volume X, No. 2, Spring 2002

President Launches New Freedom Commission on Mental Health

"Our country must make a commitment: Americans with mental illness deserve our understanding and they deserve excellent care," said President George W. Bush in announcing the establishment this spring of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health.

The Commission will identify the needs of people with mental illness and the barriers to care, investigate community-based care models that have shown success in coordinating and providing mental health services, and formulate policy options to integrate effective treatments and improve service coordination. The Commission is charged with producing an interim report within 6 months of the President's April 29 Executive Order, followed by a final report at a later date to be determined by the Commission chair in consultation with the President.

Currently, numerous Federal, state, and local government entities oversee mental health programs, policy, funding, and the diverse network of public and private providers. The Bush Administration wants to encourage more efficient organization and coordination to ensure effective treatment for those in need.

SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., said, "We welcome the opportunity the Commission offers to take a fresh look at ways to enable adults with serious mental illness and children with serious emotional disturbances to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. As the Federal Government's lead Agency for administering mental health and substance abuse services, SAMHSA will clearly have a role in carrying out the Commission's recommendations."

The Commission comprises a maximum of 15 members appointed by the President, including providers, payers, administrators, and consumers of mental health services and their families. The Commission also includes a maximum of seven ex officio members, four of whom will be designated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the remaining three of whom will be designated—one each—by the Secretaries of the Departments of Labor, Education, and Veterans Affairs.

"SAMHSA will clearly have a role in carrying out the Commission's recommendations."
–Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W.
SAMHSA Administrator

President Bush has appointed Michael F. Hogan, Ph.D., as Commission chair. Dr. Hogan will also continue in his position as director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health, where he has served since 1991. In this capacity, he implemented comprehensive legislative reform, which devolved mental health care to the community level, reforming forensic services to improve quality and public safety, and developing new approaches to children's services to reduce reliance on out-of-home care.

Claire Heffernan has been selected as executive director, and Stanley Eichenauer serves as deputy executive director.

The Commission's office has already started planning for regional meetings throughout the country to gather information for formulating the report.

In announcing the formation of the Commission, President Bush said, "Millions of Americans are impaired at work, at school, or at home by episodes of mental illness. Remarkable treatments exist, and that's good. Yet many people—too many people—remain untreated."

He identified three major obstacles that interfere with care: the stigma surrounding mental illness "caused by a history of misunderstanding, fear, and embarrassment"; a fragmented mental health service delivery system; and "unfair treatment limitations placed on mental health in insurance coverage."

Americans with mental illness, he said, "deserve a health care system that treats their illness with the same urgency as a physical illness." He said that the Commission is charged with making "concrete recommendations for immediate improvements" that "must be implemented by the Federal Government, the state government, local agencies, as well as public and private health care providers."

For more information on the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, visit

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