Vice President Joe Biden will speak at an event to announce a unified approach to the study of the brain by all elements of the federal government — timed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s “moonshot” speech, Patrick Kennedy tells POLITICO.
Biden is set to speak on May 25 at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston at an event to announce a 10-year blueprint to streamline federal research on neuroscience, brain injuries and mental illness among veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, Kennedy said.
The event is part of Kennedy’s One Mind project, an initiative whose goal is to draw attention to the lack of a single repository in government for brain research or a unified approach to the work.
Kennedy said he met with White House deputy chief of staff Nancy-Ann DeParle and Stephanie Cutter, special assistant to President Barack Obama on social affairs, Thursday to lock in the participation of Biden.
“We need the same purpose — one mind — for our veterans that we brought to the outer space race. We need to bring that to the inner space race,” Kennedy said.
A White House spokesman wasn’t immediately able to confirm Biden’s pledge to attend.
In an interview, Kennedy said that there is “tremendous excitement” among advocates and researchers around the burgeoning research and he believes that “a push right now will lead to disease-modifying treatments and ultimately cures” for a variety of diseases that affect about one in three Americans.
Kennedy tells POLITICO that he has organized leaders and researchers at the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Food and Drug Administration, among others, to help him devise a research strategy and also to deal with the rising suicide rate among combat veterans who face traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and a myriad of other ill effects related to their often extended time under fire. He has launched a nonprofit, Moonshot.org, to raise money for the effort.
Kennedy calls the suicide epidemic a “Sputnik moment” that should serve to motivate lawmakers to improve the research and care of veterans returning home.
Along with his late father, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Kennedy helped to pass landmark mental health parity legislation into law, requiring insurers to cover treatment for mental illness at the same rates that medical treatment is covered.
Since he left Congress at the end of last year, Kennedy has taken a fellowship at Brown University where he is using his position as a bully pulpit to push for neuroscience research. Kennedy has lead a very public struggle with his own mental illness and alcoholism.