NAMI Mourns the Loss of Senator Pete Domenici
ARLINGTON, Va., September 13, 2017 – NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is saddened to hear the news that former-Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico has passed away. Senator Domenici served in the U.S. Senate for 35 years. Along with his wife Nancy, the senator worked tirelessly to educate his colleagues about mental illness and the need to improve mental health services and supports.
NAMI Chief Executive Officer Mary Giliberti expressed her heartfelt sorrow to Mrs. Domenici and the entire Domenici family: “Today, we mourn the loss of one of our staunchest allies. Senator Domenici has been a longtime advocate fighting for equal treatment for mental illness. He leaves behind a legacy in Congress on behalf of people with mental illness and their families that will never be forgotten. NAMI offers our deepest condolences to Nancy and their family.”
Senator Domenici’s legacy includes legislative accomplishments like significantly increasing the budget of the National Institute of Mental Health, passing a major bill to help homeless individuals with mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders, and establishing priorities for biomedical and clinical research.
Senator Domenici had a remarkable capacity to work across the aisle with Democratic colleagues on legislation of mutual interest. Perhaps the best example of this was the federal mental health and addictions parity bill in 2007. Against great odds, Senator Domenici reached out to his Democratic colleagues—Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts—to pass this landmark federal law. It is fitting that the law’s title is “Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.”
“Parity of insurance is almost a civil-rights issue,” Senator Domenici once said. “We take care of people with heart trouble, we operate on them, we have great learning centers where we study all there is to know about the heart. And insurance companies have paid for all those surgeries. And yet, if you have schizophrenia, which is an illness of the brain instead of the heart, because we started off early on saying it wasn’t an illness, we kept it and they wouldn’t let us change it.”
Senator Domenici was the father of eight children. One of his children began to show symptoms of schizophrenia in her late teens. After attending a NAMI support group, the Domenici family attended NAMI conventions and gave back to the NAMI community with words of wisdom and comfort. Mrs. Domenici even served on NAMI’s National Board of Directors between 1989 and 1992.
Although much progress has been made, Giliberti reflected that many barriers remain in achieving true parity in mental health care: “We all owe it to Senator Domenici to honor his legacy by continuing his hard work to achieve systems of care that are truly fair and just for people with mental illness and their families.”