I was thrown onto an uncharted path nearly 17 years ago. I was in excruciating pain, I was lost and confused and had no idea how to navigate the path, where the journey was headed or what I was supposed to do along the way. When Anna died from an eating disorder on February 17, 2000 I felt like my world had blown apart. I did not know how to survive the tragedy but I did know one thing; I had to somehow transform the horror of Anna’s death into something positive. I reached out to Senator Paul Wellstone who was a champion of mental health parity and asked for his help. I told him Anna’s story and he told me to take the story to Washington D.C. He said that I should bring as many other voices with me as possible because that is what would make change happen. My journey has been hard, frustrating, messy, and often filled with obstacles, but it was always a journey of love.
Once I figured out that the journey was headed towards Washington D.C. it did not take long for others to join me on the path. People from across the United States stepped up and were willing to use their voices and tell their stories to Members of Congress. Soon we had a movement that included thousands of people who were committed to a common goal, which was to pass meaningful Federal legislation to address eating disorders.
In 2014 we introduced the Anna Westin Act and our advocates began the hard work of meeting with their representatives, making phone calls and sending letters, emails, tweets and posting on Facebook to drum up support. As the 114th Congress was nearing the end we heard that our efforts were successful and language from the Anna Westin Act was included in a bill called the 21st Century Cures Act. The Cures Act is a bipartisan bill and both the House and the Senate were motivated to get it passed before Congress adjourned in December. The House of Representatives passed the Cures Act with Anna Westin Act language included on Nov. 29 with an overwhelming majority, 392- 26. The bill was brought to the floor of the Senate on Dec. 7 and I along with fellow advocates watched as the Senators filed in one-by-one and voted. The bill won with an overwhelming majority of 94 – 5. On Tuesday, Dec. 13, President Obama will sign the bill and it will become law! After nearly 17 years of work we passed eating disorders specific legislation. We made history and the efforts of our advocates will help millions of people by providing training for medical professionals and clarifying that mental health parity applies to all levels of treatment including residential.
It is hard to describe how it felt to be sitting in the gallery of the Senate to witness this historic moment. I was elated and relieved. I felt immensely grateful to our grassroots advocates and our champions in the Senate and the House who worked tirelessly to get this done. And, I felt calm, like a weight was being lifted from my shoulders. I willingly took on the burden of getting this done and I was never alone on the journey. There were always people who helped carry the load but I always felt that it was my responsibility to be Anna’s voice and to get this initiative to the finish line. However, I and my fellow advocates could only take it so far, we had to have Members of the Senate and the House take it across the finish line. Senator Amy Klobuchar stepped up and assured us that she would do everything in her power to pass the Anna Westin Act and that is exactly what she did. She asked three women Senators to help; Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Senator Shelly Capito (R-WV) and they worked as a team to get this done. I am proud of our Minnesota Congressional Delegation who joined forces nearly unanimously including Sen. Al Franken [D-MN], Rep. Erik Paulsen [R-MN-3], Rep. Keith Ellison [D-MN-5], Rep. Collin Peterson [D-MN-7], Rep. Tom Emmer [R-MN-6], Rep. Richard Nolan [D-MN-8], Rep. Timothy Walz [D- MN-1] and Rep. Betty McCollum [D-MN-4] to help millions of people who are affected by eating disorders.
Passing language from the Anna Westin Act was truly a team effort. It proves that having passion and commitment and never, ever giving up can lead to success. Our work is not done, there are other issues that we need to address related to eating disorders but let’s all take a moment to bask in this victory! Anna wrote the following words in her journal just days before she died; “May your dreaming never end and your voice never die”.Thank you for daring to dream and using your voice. Together we made history!