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This was a big week for new Rep. Mike McMahon — the Bay Ridge congressman not only submitted his first bill, but he was voted to be the whip of the three dozen or so other freshman Democrats in the House.
So, naturally, he was on the phone with The Brooklyn Paper on Friday, the latest installment in our regular feature, “McMahon on line 1.”
First on the agenda, the bill, which is officially called the “Veterans Mental Health Screening and Assessment Act,” or HR 1308. Its main provision calls for all returning soldiers to participate in mandatory — and confidential — one-to-one suicide and post-traumatic stress screenings with licensed mental health professionals.
Given that the Army just reported the highest level of suicides among soldiers since records started being kept 28 years ago, it’s hard to imagine that Congress needs to pass a bill to get proper post-war mental health treatment, but, apparently, it does.
“The reason for the bill is that the current screening is done when soldiers land, and in front of other soldiers,” McMahon said. “It’s handled really poorly because a lot of vets won’t talk about their stress in public like that.”
McMahon added that the current screening slightly delays a soldier’s reunion with his family, so there’s a disincentive to give a full story to a health worker.
“And sometimes, they’re just afraid to admit it,” McMahon added. “So we want them to do it more professional and more meaningfully. Caring for our veterans is a basic function of the federal government.”
Speaking of basic functions of government, McMahon got a chance to experience another one when he handed in the bill itself.
Yes, even in this age of Congressmen who Twitter from the floor of the House, submitting a bill still means writing it, printing it out and dropping in the hopper.
“It is literally a hopper,” he said. “You walk up and drop it in.”
So you could put any bill in there — “National Brooklyn Paper Appreciation Day,” “The Americans for Cheaper Concert Tickets Act,” etc.
“Well, not any bill,” McMahon said. “But any bill that is within the power of the Congress. No one is stopping you. You walk down and drop it in.”
Second on the agenda was McMahon’s ascension to his first leadership post: he’s now the whip of all 35 Democratic freshman in the House.
No, that doesn’t give him the power of a Steny Hoyer, but it does mean he’s well liked, which is almost as important. McMahon said the job is about “keeping the information flowing between the House leadership and the freshman class, so each side knows what the other is thinking.”
Why, we asked McMahon, did his fellow lawmakers think he’d be good at that, given that he, too, is a freshman?
“In our meetings as a group, I think they saw that I have a fundamental knowledge of the legislative process,” said the former City Councilman.
In other words, the rest of the freshman class is a bunch of hillbillies and farmers, right?
“No,” McMahon said. “This is the brightest and most dynamic freshman class ever!”
Spoken like a freshman whip.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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