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Biden announces mental health push on eve of Newtown anniversary

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden waves to the crowd as he leaves after delivering his speech at Yonsei University in Seoul December 6, 2013. RE
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden waves to the crowd as he leaves after delivering his speech at Yonsei University in Seoul December 6, 2013. RE

By Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a new push to increase access to mental health services with $100 million in new government funding nearly a year after a school shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut.

Biden, who spearheaded a failed Obama administration campaign for stronger gun control measures following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, met with families of the victims and mental health advocates.

"The fact that less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need is unacceptable," he said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has said the worst day of his presidency was December 14, 2012, the day a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the school before turning a gun on himself.

The motive for the shooting is unknown. In a report released last month, state investigators said the 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, acted alone, using guns legally purchased by his mother, whom he shot dead before driving to the school. Lanza had attended the school.

Families of the victims and residents of Newtown, a suburban community about 70 miles northeast of New York City, have asked for privacy as the Saturday anniversary of the mass shooting nears.

On Saturday, the president and first lady Michelle Obama will observe a moment of silence at the White House in honor of the victims, a White House official said.

After Sandy Hook, Obama and Biden pushed to expand background checks for gun sales, ban more types of military-style assault weapons and limit the capacity of ammunition magazines.

But lawmakers failed to pass the measures, which were opposed by powerful lobbying groups, including the National Rifle Association.

The White House has proposed spending $130 million to help teachers and other people who work with youth recognize the signs of mental illness and help people get treatment, but Congress has not yet allocated those funds.

So the administration will spend $50 million from its Health and Human Services budget to help community health centers hire more mental health professionals and provide more services and another $50 million from the Agriculture Department budget to improve mental health facilities in rural areas, the White House said.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Jonathan Oatis)

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