Saturday, August 29, 2009

Carrying on a Legacy - Representative Patrick Kennedy

I first met Congressman Patrick Kennedy a few years ago at a hearing in Trenton. At that time he was traveling around the country meeting with ordinary citizens to hear their mental health and addiction-related stories as well as their difficulties in getting appropriate healthcare treatment. The Congressman was the chief sponsor of and reintroduced a bill named The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, a landmark legislation that became law in 2008. The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act ensures that mental health benefits are offered at parity with medical benefits, providing access to mental health services for approximately 113 million Americans. This legislation sought the breakdown of discrimination in insurance coverage for mental health compared to physical health care. No small feat. Especially since it took over ten years to pass the legislation.

Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat of Rhode Island saw the bill as a civil rights issue and openly described his own drug dependence and depression as a mental illness and felt fortunate as a Congressman to get the best healthcare treatment for his own problems and wanted to make sure every American could receive the same level of healthcare. This sounds quite reminiscent of his father Edward Kennedy.

The media eulogies abound this week for Senator Ted Kennedy, rightly so. However, repeatedly we are being told that the Senator is the last in the line of the Kennedy family legacy. Why do they not refer to Patrick Kennedy? If anyone will continue the work of Senator Teddy Kennedy it will be his son, Patrick. Patrick Kennedy sits on the Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; and on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. He is also a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and has introduced several bills which would strengthen laws regarding handguns. He may not have the same dynamic personality as his father, but I can say he was very warm and kind when I met him.

The next time someone in the media acts like there is no one left in the Kennedy family to continue the legacy or replace Edward, let us consider Patrick Kennedy and recognize that he has the political where-with-all to continue empathetic and realistic work on healthcare reform and other social issues. But the values and principles of Senator Ted Kennedy can-and-should be realized in each of us as American citizens, as well.