Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Signing of the Community Mental Health Centers Act Amendments of 1965.

August 04, 1965

Distinguished Members of the Congress, the Cabinet, guests, and friends:

If we had not already proclaimed so many other special weeks, I think I would be tempted this morning to designate this as Health Legislation Week at the White House and in the Nation.

The 89th Congress and Secretary Celebrezze are, between them, writing the greatest record in our Nation's history in the health field.

Only last week I was privileged to sign the landmark Medicare legislation at Independence, Missouri, completing the program that was begun 20 years ago by President Truman. This week I shall sign at least three major new legislative landmarks expressing America's broadening concern for the health of all of its citizens.

This measure before me now, we think, is especially important. While many do not realize it, mental illness is our number one health problem. One out of ten Americans need mental health care. Almost one half of all of our hospital beds in this country are filled by the mentally ill.

This bill, H.R. 2985, has two major purposes: first, to amend the Community Mental Health Centers Act to authorize Federal assistance in the initial staffing of personnel for these centers; secondly, to expand teacher training, and research and demonstration projects for the education of handicapped children. Both of these purposes are vital building blocks in the structure of our society.

Well over a century ago, Dorothea Dix took the mentally ill out of jails and dungeons and attics, and brought them into hospital asylums. And that was a major advance.

But today we know much more and we can do much more about these illnesses. We know that it helps mentally ill persons to remain close to their home. We know that many patients need only daytime care and therefore are able to return to their homes in the evening. We know others can be helped to stay on their jobs while receiving treatment at night. We know today that put, ting away the mentally ill in large isolated asylums is no longer either justifiable or useful. And that is why the focus of our efforts is upon strengthening community health resources.

The 88th Congress took a giant step forward by making it possible for local communities to secure Federal assistance in constructing mental health centers, and now it is time for another major advance. Now it is time to take more of our mentally ill out of the asylums, and bring them and keep them and care for them close to their homes, in their own familiar surroundings, and in their own communities.

And this legislation really gives us a very new, important tool to use in advancing this concept, by helping the communities staff their own local mental health centers. There is a second aspect of this legislation which is also equally important. Today at least 10 percent of our school-age population, a total of nearly 5 million of our children, need special educational services to help them overcome severe mental or physical handicaps. Of these, a quarter million children are too ill or too crippled to attend regular classes. Over 2 1/2 million have sight or hearing or speech handicaps that require very special educational services. And more than 1 million children are mentally retarded, and almost a million more are emotionally disturbed.

These children cannot always be taught successfully by the usual teaching methods, but they can be taught and they do want to learn, and we should be able to provide them with the well trained teachers that they need.

The Office of Education estimates that 60,000 to 70,000 teachers of the handicapped are at work in our schools today. But you know what we need? We really need more than 60, 000--we need 300,000.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act that this wonderful 89th Congress passed made provisions to meet some of these special educational needs, and only 3 weeks ago I signed into law the act establishing a National Technical Institute for the Deaf. But the foundation on which we work is that laid down by the 88th Congress in the law that we are strengthening now.

Under this law our colleges, our universities, and our State education agencies are providing this year's traineeships and fellowships to 4,900 students that are preparing to become teachers of handicapped children. Six thousand new teachers will be in training this coming school year. But with these amendments we will now be able to double that number by 1967. In the years ahead, we shall be able to close the wide gap between the schooling needs of handicapped children and the services that we provide those children.

And I think it is a very fine commentary on this Congress and on this country that with all the responsibilities which we must meet around the world, that our society is still able and willing to show compassion for the mentally ill and for the children who face life under handicaps of nature.

I am glad to see so many familiar faces standing here with me this morning. They have been here several times during this session of Congress and the last session, each time taking an additional step forward in the field of improving the minds of our children, in the field of caring for the bodies of our people, in participating in the most laudable objectives that can come to government.

And I would like to feel that this particular group of men, of both parties, that this is a historic occasion, and that we could take a picture of these men and hang it in our living rooms, and over it put the roll of honor and teach our children to revere them for the advances that they are taking in this 20th century to give all the children all the education they can take, to give all the children all the care and treatment they need. What finer service could any legislator give to his country? What finer monument. could he build?

So I feel that every American can and should take great pride in being part of a system that is so devoted and dedicated to justice and to decency, and to just plain old-fashioned simple goodness.

This measure and all the others in this field are going to live as a monument to a good many people, and I want to particularly point out Secretary Celebrezze, who is leaving in a short time to go to the court. They also stand as tributes to the specialized legislative leadership of skilled craftsmen in the Congress, men such as Lister Hill of Alabama, and Oren Harris, Congressman Fogarty, and I would like to call each one by name. I might miss a name though and I'd undo all the good; I'll just say all the men standing in front of you.

These men and all the Members in the Senate and the House who have made this progress possible deserve the gratitude of the American people. And I think it will just be a matter of time until our goals in health will be set and we will have new targets to shoot at.

We presently have a life expectancy of 70 years. I have a prediction--I am not in Drew Pearson's business and I don't want to compete with him--but I'm telling you now that we are going to raise that goal. It is not going to stay at 70; it is going to move up to 75 or on. We have an infant mortality that now runs at about 25 per thousand births. We are going to lower that.

We have heart disease, cancer, and stroke which now account for 70 percent of all the deaths in this country, and we are going to make a dent in that and reduce it. How we are going to do it, and when we are going to do it, and where we are going to do it is a little secret I will let you in on later this year.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:40 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. During his remarks he referred to, among others, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Anthony J. Celebrezze, Senator Lister Hill of Alabama, Representative Oren Harris of Arkansas, and Representative John E. Fogarty of Rhode Island.

As enacted, the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act Amendments of 1965 is Public Law 89-105 (79 Stat. 427).

For the President's remarks with President Truman at the signing of the Medicare bill, see Item 394.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was approved by the President on April 11, 1965 (see Item 181).

The National Technical Institute for the Deaf Act was approved by the President on June 8, 1965 (see Item 305).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Signing of the Community Mental Health Centers Act Amendments of 1965. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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