Reviews | Republicans blame mental health issues for gun violence. So where is the money for care?


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America’s exceptional gun culture is not the source of our exceptional levels of gun violence and mass shootings, say GOP politicians. Something else must be to blame.

Of late, the most politically practical explanation is mental illness.

“We as a state, we as a society need to do a better job of mental health,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) said after an 18-year-old killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde with the help of soldiers. weapons he had legally acquired. “Anyone who shoots someone else has a mental health issue. Period. As a government, we need to find a way to target that mental health issue and do something about it.

That argument has been echoed by other Republicans, including Rep. Tony Gonzales (Texas), Gov. Asa Hutchinson (Ark.) and, in a speech at the National Rifle Association convention, former President Donald Trump.

Never mind, apparently, that mental health advocates suggested he was a scapegoat. Many people struggle with mental health issues, in the United States and elsewhere; most do not resort to violence, let alone massacre fourth graders. Easy access to firearms in this country allows a would-be mass shooter to achieve their violent ambitions, whether that person has been diagnosed with a mental health condition or not.

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But let’s say these politicians sincerely believe that identifying and treating mental health issues — rather than, say, restricting access to effective killing machines — is the key to curbing mass shootings. If so, why didn’t they put their money in their mouths?

Texas, for example, ranks last out of 50 states for overall access to mental health care, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America. The ranking is based on available data on measures such as the proportions of adults and children with mental health problems who have not been able to receive treatment.

Among the reasons: Texas is one of twelve states that still hasn’t expanded Medicaid, the public health insurance program that covers poor and low-income Americans, and is the nation’s largest payer for mental health services.

Texas officials’ refusal to expand Medicaid does not appear to be rooted in concerns of public welfare or fiscal responsibility. The federal government has offered recalcitrant states billions of dollars in incentives to expand Medicaid, most recently through last year’s US bailout. These incentives would ultimately be take out state revenue ahead, even after taking into account new Texas spending requirements if it were to make more residents eligible for public insurance. Medicaid expansion would also reduce costs for hospitals that currently provide a lot of unpaid care to uninsured patients.

Instead, Texas chooses to be the state with the highest share of uninsured residents.

It’s getting worse. In April, Abbott transferred $211 million from the state Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees mental health programs, as noted by NBC News. The money was transferred to support Operation Lone Star, the governor’s controversial deployment of the National Guard and border enforcement.

Texans have already heard of Abbott’s alleged deep concern for mental health services, at least in the wake of the gun killings.

After previous mass shootings – including one at the A Houston-area high school in 2018 and one targeting Hispanics at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 — Abbott blamed “mental health” as a central cause. To his credit, after the high school shootings, he at least signed a series of bills intended to (modestly) improve the state’s mental health initiatives, such as providing more mental health training for educators.

But such measures were insufficient to improve the state’s horrendous record on mental health services, as documented in a recent series of Houston Chronicle investigations.

Obviously, these measures have not stopped the mass shootings either. Nor are the many other bills Abbott has signed in recent years to loosen restrictions on guns, such as a 2019 measure giving more teachers access to guns in classrooms. .

Texas political leaders aren’t alone in paying scant attention to mental health issues, except when it’s helpful to distract from other political vulnerabilities.

The United States ranks lower overall than most other affluent nations on a range of metrics related to mental health, including suicide rates and the ability of individuals to obtain or afford professional help when in crisis. emotional distress. Meanwhile, Republicans, including Trump, have worked to roll back public health programs and subsidies that enable the meager access to care currently available to low- and middle-income Americans.

For too many years, GOP politicians have alternated between saying they would prevent gun violence by investing in health care (instead of restrictions on guns) and later working to reduce access to care. . Voters rarely seem to register the disconnect. But the more massacres there are, and the more frequently they occur, the more difficult it becomes to maintain these charades.

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