Senate Committee Advances Durbin, Portman Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act

Bipartisan legislation would expand mental health support for survivors, first responders after emergencies; provide trauma counseling in wake of disasters, such as the Edwardsville tornado

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC), announced that their bipartisan and bicameral legislation, the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act, unanimously passed out of HSGAC today. The bill would expand federally funded mental health and trauma support resources for survivors and first responders following Emergency Declarations granted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Disasters can cause emotional and mental scars that have lasting effects beyond the physical damage,” said Durbin. “Whether in the wake of tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, or mass violence, we should provide trauma and mental health services to our communities. I thank my partner Senator Portman for moving us one step closer to delivering critical mental health resources after tragedy strikes.”

“The survivors of catastrophic events, whether from an act of terror or extreme weather, can experience psychological harm.  Research from the National Institute of Health finds that crisis counseling is an effective tool to help survivors overcome this trauma,” said Portman. “Unfortunately, FEMA does not currently have the authority to reimburse states for this critical service in the aftermath of declared emergencies. Our bipartisan Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act rectifies this lapse and ensures states have every tool they need to make their communities whole. That’s why I’m pleased this legislation has advanced in the Senate, and I urge all of my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation when it comes to the floor for a vote.”


Currently, FEMA’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) is only available following Major Disaster Declarations, but not Emergency Declarations. This legislation would amend FEMA statute to give states the option to request federal reimbursement after emergency declarations for trauma and mental health services. Following the December tornadoes in Illinois, FEMA issued an emergency declaration—if this bill had been in effect, the state could have requested CCP services including for the survivors of the six deceased or the others injured, including first responders. Over the last decade, there have been more than 4,000 Emergency Declarations in 37 states, according to FEMA’s database.  Emergency declarations have been issued for winter storms and hurricanes, as well as in times of terrorism response, such as the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.


The legislation is led in the House by Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Dina Titus (D-NV-01), David McKinley (R-WV-01), and Peter Meijer (R-MI-03). The legislation is endorsed by the National Association of EMTs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Counties, American Psychological Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Children’s Hospital Association, American Hospital Association, International Association of Emergency Managers, Center for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.


Durbin previously introduced the Resilience Investment, Support, and Expansion (RISE) from Trauma Act, bipartisan legislation to increase support for children who have been exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma, including witnessing community violence, parental addiction, or abuse.