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Biden to Announce Funds for Mental Health Alongside Newtown Families

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Families of victims from the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., will join Vice President Joe Biden today as he pledges federal funding to boost mental health services, a White House official said.

The announcement comes nearly a year after gunman Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six adults inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, setting off overlapping calls for action on guns, school safety, and mental health issues.

The funding Biden plans to announce will include $50 million made available through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that will allow community health centers to add or expand services for addiction and mental illness. Community health centers are facilities that offer a broad range of general medical treatments, often on a sliding, income-based pay scale, to low-income or uninsured people in areas that are usually designated "underserved" by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will "set a goal of financing $50 million for the construction, expansion, or improvement of mental health facilities in rural areas over the next three years," the White House official said in an email. That will be made in loans, not grants, for services like telemedicine. Telemedicine uses broadband internet connections to allow practitioners and patients in rural areas to consult with more advanced specialists, who are typically based in larger cities.

The announcement is a step toward building mental health into safety net programs and bringing those services to areas and populations that often see their needs in these areas go unmet. But mental health services, fiber optic cables, and facilities projects are expensive. It remains to be seen how far $100 million, part of it requiring repayment, will go to address needs across the county.

Mental health is frequently a topic of discussion following school shootings, and Newtown was no exception.

Lanza had "significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others, even those to whom he should have been close," a state investigative report said, but mental health professionals who treated him "did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior."

Calls for mental health awareness and treatment have also rang out in schools over the past year, as a handful of state legislatures boosted funding for school-based mental health services or added measures to screen mental health issues in students.

Photo:  Vice President Joe Biden meets with senior advisors and administration officials in his West Wing office at the White House, Jan. 4, 2013.  (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

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