MONTPELIER -- The National Council for Behavioral Health, representing over 2000 member organizations nationwide, held its annual conference in Washington, D.C., from May 5 to 7 culminating with Hill Day 2014, the Council’s advocacy day. Vermont was well represented at Hill Day with 17 professionals, from several Vermont Designated Agencies, on hand to advocate for the families and communities they serve.

The Vermont delegation met with Sen. Bernard Sanders, and staff from the offices of Sen. Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch. The delegation thanked the legislators for their support of the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which was approved by congress in December and aims to expand access to evidence-based community healthcare for children and adults with serious mental illness.

"Senators Leahy and Sanders, along with Congressman Welch should be applauded for their efforts in passing this landmark act," said Ralph Provenza, executive director of United Counseling Service of Bennington County. "We need their support now more than ever and we thank them on behalf of the people we serve."

The Vermont delegation also discussed important initiatives that will support services in our local communities. The Behavioral Health IT Act and the Mental Health First Aid Act were advocated for along with mental health and substance abuse appropriations for the 2015 budget.

The Behavioral Health IT Act would provide access to IT services for mental health and substance abuse providers to adopt electronic health records and coordinate care with primary care physicians.

The Mental Health First Aid Act would build on previous trainings sponsored by the Vermont Department of Mental Health and Vermont Council of Developmental and Mental Health Services. These Mental Health First Aid trainings, conducted in each region of the State by designated and specialized services agencies, teach how community members can assist someone who is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. The proposed legislation, paired with improved funding, will result in stronger services in Vermont.

"These initiatives will directly support our statewide designated and specialized agency provider network in our efforts to provide high quality and coordinated care to our communities" said Simone Rueschemeyer, director of the Behavioral Health Network of Vermont.

The annual conference brought together over 4,500 behavioral health professionals from across the country to participate in over 125 training sessions and hear 300 speakers discuss cutting edge work in mental health and substance abuse services.