Questions about Virginia’s National NAMI Board Candidate: Smart and Independent




Here’s an excerpt from an email that I received this week.

The (not named for privacy reasons) state hospital was putting my delusional, psychotic granddaughter on a Greyhound bus to Colorado in the dead of winter. Fortunately, she realized it was too risky & called me. Her social worker said “that’s what she wanted & the DR. okayed it.” They put her in a cab the next day to our home an hour away without notifying me. Again, the social worker said she called & left a message. I had given her the cell phone number to prevent that but, she called the house & answering machine. Our granddaughter was so sick she had to go to the doctor for strep throat & they were putting her on a bus to travel for two days. She had no money to travel on. My vet is a more compassionate than the people who released her.

I believe the role of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is to speak out loudly about such questionable behavior by mental health workers.

This is why it is important for you to participate in NAMI’s board elections that currently are being held in anticipation of its upcoming Washington D.C. convention. I have posted the list of candidates once again at the end of this blog and would urge you to read every candidate’s statements.

I did not intend to write any more about the election, but I have received numerous emails from Virginia chapters asking me if I know Frankie Berger, Nominated by NAMI Central Virginia (Virginia), personally or have worked with her on Capitol Hill. This is because I live in Fairfax, Virginia, and other chapters in our state are curious if I have any ” inside scoop” about our state’s candidate.

Let me first say, that I have studied all of the nominees’ qualifications and listened to their personal stories and all are compelling. Although candidates may have strongly differing opinions, all are committed to improving the lives of those with mental illnesses. All of them deserve your careful study. Having written that, I want to answer the email questions sent to me by Virginia chapters about Ms. Berger.

Yes, I know Ms. Berger and have appeared on discussion panels with her on Capitol Hill and also have worked alongside her on various legislation. She is the Director of Advocacy for the Treatment Advocacy Center, but she is not a candidate on the “Focus on Serious Mental Illness ” platform. Because of her employment, some email writers have asked me if she is someone who would be open to positions other than those being endorsed by TAC.

My answer is yes. Obviously, addressing the needs of individuals with SMIs would be a top priority and within her wheelhouse, but assuming that she would only push TAC’s agenda unfairly pigeon holes her. How do I know? Because I have watched her collaborate with groups – that are not big fans of TAC – to pass important mental health reforms on Capitol Hill.  She has a reputation in the House and Senate as being extremely smart, well-prepared, a hard worker and a team player. She is running for the board because of her experiences as a child dealing with the challenges that come with having a parent with a serious mental illness. I was told privately that some TAC board members questioned whether one of its employees should be allowed to run for a NAMI board seat. They decided it was her right as an individual to express herself independent of the organization.

frankie bergerI have told Virginia chapters curious about Ms. Berger that they should pay special attention to her previous work as the associate director of state and local government relations for Habitat for Humanity International. She worked with Habitat affiliates across the country to change laws to advance self-help housing and reduce predatory lending practices. Prior to Habitat, she was a policy aid on Capitol Hill, and for the social and human sciences division of UNESCO in Bangkok, Thailand.

Her housing experience at Habitat for Humanity, a group that I worked with through my church before my son became ill, caught my attention because I am a strong supporter of low income and supportive housing. What moved me most, however, was her story about her childhood experiences.  (Listen here.)

Clearly Ms. Berger’s personal story is not the only harrowing one being told by candidates. Everyone has an emotional story to tell because these individual stories are what bring all of us to NAMI. It would be foolish for any of us to rank the horrors that all of us have endured. Every time I tell my son’s story, I meet individuals who have undergone much, much worse dealing with these cruel illnesses and a non responsive system. Yet, what happened to me is what keeps me motivated.

Virginia has nominated an impressive candidate but so have other chapters. Do your due diligence. Most of all, make your voice heard.

Here is a list of all of the candidate running for the five open seats. Voting is taking place now within chapters.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.