07/20/2011 11:23 am ET | Updated Sep 19, 2011

Charlie Rangel on Mental Illness

I had the opportunity to ask my Congressman, Charlie Rangel, a question at his recent town hall meeting. I took notes (not dictation), and here is how the conversation went, more or less (in other words, I've paraphrased):

DJ Jaffe: With the budget deficit in mind, there are people with serious mental illnesses on our streets eating out of dumpsters, who can't get help, because the mental health system only wants to treat high-functioning people with mental "health" issues versus people with truly serious mental "illness." The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency is the worst. SAMHSA spends money to prevent the most seriously mentally ill from getting treatment and wastes much of the remainder on those who need services the least. Eliminating SAMHSA will save taxpayers money and improve care for people with serious mental illness. What will you do to pressure SAMHSA to start focusing on serious mental illness instead of mental health? Thank you.

Congressman Charlie Rangel: Mental health is a big issue. America doesn't know how big a problem mental health is. People won't talk about it. When I was a kid it was you were depressed, or whatever. When we see what is happening to the military... that they are not getting evaluated before they leave. And the stigma. And we're closing institutions. And people don't get meds. And what's going on with the military. And this is going to be a bigger issue down the road.

Now the particular organization you are with -- and your issue -- I'd like to learn more. So if you contact my office we'll look into it.

My feeling was that Congressman Rangel, like most Americans, does not understand that the billions going to "mental health" services are not going to the seriously mentally ill. How could he? SAMHSA alone gives out $3 billion to make the worried, well, worry less, and the recipients tell Congress that all is well but that they just need more money. Meanwhile, the seriously mentally ill are left to fend for themselves and eat out of dumpsters. They wind up homeless, incarcerated or, like the individual described in the July 19 New York Daily News, dead.

Dr. Fuller Torrey, the nation's leading schizophrenia researcher, recently wrote a terrific article, "Bureaucratic Insanity," that exposed some of SAMHSA's waste and efforts to prevent treatment. He also recorded a short video on problems at SAMHSA.

I hope Congressman Rangel is serious about looking into mismanagement at SAMHSA. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, his intervention could really turn things around. SAMHSA needs reform or elimination. Either would save taxpayers money, not to mention the lives of people with mental illness.