Focus on Smith's autism, veterans workSmith Awarded ‘Legislator of the Year’ by Mental Health & Addictions Group
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) was a guest speaker and award recipient of the 2015 Federal Legislative Leader Award from the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA) at its Fall Behavioral Healthcare Meeting this afternoon at the Robert Wood Johnson Fitness and Wellness Center in Hamilton.
Smith was honored for his work with autism, veterans and other mental health issues. He was welcomed at the Oct. 15 event by Dr. Debra Wentz, CEO of NJAHMAA, as well as Shauna Moses, associate executive director.
“It is my honor and privilege to present the Federal Legislative Leader Award to Congressman Chris Smith in recognition of the numerous laws he has authored, sponsored and co-sponsored throughout his 35-year career in an effort to prevent suicides among veterans, combat human trafficking and provide assistance to individuals with autism and their families,” Wentz said. “Congressman Smith is the author of more than a dozen laws focused on enhancing health, education and homeless benefits for veterans.”
Some of Smith’s key accomplishments related to mental health and addictions:
“I am humbled to receive this award from a group whose members so diligently serve some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” Smith said. "Njamhaa has done so much for so many, you are on the front lines of the fight against persistent mental illness. Mental health doesn't get its due attention because you can't always see it.”
Smith noted that even though the federal government operates more than 100 programs intended to address mental illness and spends roughly $130 billion on research and services, there are rising rates of substance abuse and numbers of families struggling to obtain help for their loved ones. “We need a better approach. I am continuing to work to ensure that we take a holistic look at the system and fix its deficiencies,” he said.
The Congressman said there is momentum in Congress to begin the conversation that will produce a final product to revamp and comprehensively improve the government's response to mental illness. “We need to bring the right services to those in need, many of whom now fall through the cracks or are incarcerated,” Smith said.
Earlier this year, Smith also voted for the 21st Century Cures Act, which passed the House and is endorsed by the NJAMHAA. "21st century cures is part of the approach to better helping those with mental illness," Smith said.
NJAMHAA members are comprised of mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment providers who serve New Jersey residents with mental illness. NJAMHAA’s mission is to eliminate stigma and ensure that mental health services are both sought and provided when needed.
In his remarks, Smith commented on yesterday’s human trafficking arrests by federal officials, and the mental anguish victims carry long after they’ve been victimized.
"There is a need to rescue AND address the mental health issues they will carry for a lifetime," Smith said.