It’s time now to clear the air, and as the biography of the Washington Navy Yard shooter emerges, we’re learning some ominous details about Aaron Alexis’ history of mental illness.
According to briefings provided by law enforcement officials, the 34-year-old had suffered with a host of psychiatric issues, including paranoia, sleep disturbance, and the sound of voices in his own head—and that’s to say nothing of his shooting out the tires of a neighbor and reports that he had difficulties with anger management.
This is not in any way to justify his actions in randomly killing innocent public servants on Monday, but the shooter’s mental health may well help explain what he did. And that’s why the Affordable Care Act—yes, that signature achievement which has been blighted and loathed by Republicans—could make such a crucial contribution.
For months we’ve been hearing that many Americans don’t care much for the Affordable Care Act. Just yesterday, our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 44% of respondents believe the act is a bad idea, and 45% believe that it will have a negative, rather than positive, impact on the nation’s health care system.
But when it comes to mental health issues—which afflict one in four adults, or 56 million people, during the course of a given year—the Affordable Care Act is already making a real difference to the issue of psychiatric illness.
First, you cannot be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition—something that those with mental illness have always struggled against in the past. Second, psychiatric treatment comes as standard, and every health plan sold through an exchange has to cover 10 essential categories, including mental health and substance abuse. Third, preventive care also comes as standard—and since those with serious mental illness are also at risk for other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, the Affordable Care Act mandates routine check-ups and screenings with no co-pays or deductibles.
The debate over gun safety has produced some of the most hardened opponents on both sides of the argument. But the one thing that everyone agrees on—from the NRA to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, from Democratic senators to House Republicans—is that mental health is an area that needs to be properly resourced as a matter of urgency.
So given that further implementation of the Affordable Care Act is now only two weeks away, isn’t it time that politicians stopped the shameful point-scoring and deliberate misinformation, and decided instead to support the provisions in this law as they apply to mental health?
Because once Aaron Alex is bound up in the annals of America’s mass shootings, we can be certain of only one thing: that someone else who is paranoid, someone else who’s hearing voices, someone else with uncontrollable anger will reach for a gun. And God help us if we’ve done nothing on the issue of mental health.