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Former First Lady to Attend Mental Health Legislation Unveiling

WASHINGTON, D.C.....Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter will join Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI) on Thursday, June 5, at 11:30 a.m. as he introduces legislation designed to better integrate mental health services into public health emergency preparedness and response efforts in the event of a terrorist attack. The announcement is scheduled to be made from the steps of the Canon House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

The groundbreaking legislation--titled the National Resilience Development Act of 2003--will create a series of programs and protocols designed to increase psychological resilience of the U.S. population following a catastrophic event.

The legislation would direct federal agencies to implement programs that would prepare first responders, the public health system, and the public at large to minimize panic and destructive behavior if attacks occur, thereby increasing the effectiveness of our response. For example, when cultists released sarin gas into a Tokyo subway in 1995, emergency rooms were overwhelmed by people who feared exposure but suffered no ill effects. In fact, 80 percent of those presented had no exposure to the gas.

An additional goal is to reduce the recovery time associated with such an attack. As many Americans continue to suffer from the harrowing psychological effects of the Sept.11, 2001, attack, the need for the legislation becomes abundantly clear.

Mrs. Carter actively promotes mental health worldwide, through a program based at The Carter Center in Atlanta.The Center recently sponsored a forum with key national mental health leaders and policymakers to advance an agenda for making the psychological aspects of terrorism a priority our nation must address (read more).

In addition to Mrs. Carter, Congressman Kennedy will be joined by several experts who have first-hand experience in dealing with the psychological impacts of terrorism in the wake of the attack on Sept . 11 attacks. They include Dr. Kerry Kelly, chief medical officer for the New York City Fire Department, who was at Ground Zero when the towers collapsed; and William P. Van Wart, a battalion chief in the New York City Fire Department, who helped coordinate relief efforts on the ground after the attack.

In addition, they will be joined by Margaret Heldring, Ph.D., president and CEO of America's HealthTogether, a health care advocacy group coordinating a partnership of the nation's leading health organizations to build resiliency in a time of terrorism.

The announcement coincides with a National Academy of Sciences report issued June 3 that supports the need for better communication and coordination among federal agencies in the event of a terrorist attack. The report also states the need for integration of mental health services into U.S. public health emergency preparedness and response efforts.

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