Skip to main content

Flexibility’s Critical Role in Advocacy – Examples from Veterans Mental Health, Mental Health Parity, and Research Grants

By August 4, 2021No Comments
NAMI Symbol
In this episode, Colleen Rahn and Matt Kuntz of NAMI Montana discuss how important flexibility is to successful advocacy campaigns. Colleen asks Matt to illustrate some examples of this from Veterans Mental Health, Mental Health Parity, and Research Grants.
At the end of the episode, Colleen and Matt mention that the Montana NAMIWalk is coming up on September 19th. Sign up or donate today at
Listen below or read the transcript.

Episode Transcribed Text


Colleen Rahn 0:05
Hi, welcome everyone to our podcast. I am Colleen Rahn., I am the Education Director for NAMI Montana. And I have Matt Kuntz with me.

Matthew Kuntz 0:14
Hi, everyone.

Today, we are going to talk about our advocacy efforts that we have for NAMI Montana, and why it is so important for us to be flexible with those efforts.

It’s a really important topic, I think, especially for small organizations like ours. We have to stay nimble, or we’re not going to be able to get through any of the important issues and advocacy efforts that we care about.

Colleen Rahn 0:45
Yeah, that’s so true. I know that one of the things that Matt, you have ever really learned to be flexible in is our veteran advocacy stuff that we’ve done.

Matthew Kuntz 1:00
Yeah, I was definitely, I guess that that was the first time I ever advocated for anything was when we advocated for mental health screenings or for improved mental health screenings. After my stepbrother’s death after he came home from Iraq. It was a major issue super contentious, and especially right after his death. We were really angry with Montana National Guard. And you know, they definitely had their hackles up with our family. And it was just a super contentious issue. And, so he passed away in March of 2007. And that was how it was for several months and we were at loggerheads. And I was kind of fighting in the press with the governor at the time to try to get mental health screenings to be mandatory for everybody that came home – in person real deal with mental health screenings. And I remember Memorial Day of 2007, Colonel Joel Cusker with the Montana National Guard, came up to me at a Memorial Day event, and he said, “Sorry” for Chris’s death, and it was incredibly powerful. I hadn’t heard anybody say sorry before, and he wasn’t the leader of the National Guard, but he was at a high level. And he and he did just say “sorry.” And at that point, I realized something that dramatically changed that we went from being an opposition to the Montana National Guard to being partners, and required, you know, abig change of heart, on our side, their side, and we became amazing partners. And that actually was what got the screening program going in Montana, and then allowed us kind of to open that door to do it nationally. And we never would have gotten that screening bill through Congress to have a more systematic screening of service members when they came home from combat, and before they left, without all of the work that the Montana National Guard did. But it required a huge pivot, a huge kind of painful pivot on everybody’s side. And you know, it required the realization that everybody needs to kind of leave their own channel and decide to go in a different one together.

Colleen Rahn 4:00
Yeah, kind of a mindset change. Because it’s something important that needed to be in place for people who were coming back, as well as going there. Yeah,

Matthew Kuntz 4:12
I needed to be flexible, because the issue is more important than my anger or my feelings, you know, that had to be put aside. And it was time to get to work to do something real. It was a huge, huge pivot to huge mindset change. But it showed me the result of that was we were able to do something massive and amazing to change the screening process for the entire United States military, but it wasn’t something that our family could have done alone or that NAMI Montana could have done alone. It required partnerships and required flexibility to be able to build those partnerships.

Colleen Rahn 4:55
Right. And you have done something more recent with veterans as well, you said that happened in like, 2008.

Matthew Kuntz 5:05
Yeah, we, we had the Commander john Scott Hannon, which passed last year. And it was the same kind of thing where you have to change what you’re doing or change who you’re partnering with over and over. And in the Precision Medicine section of that bill, we worked really incredibly closely with Emily Blair, of Senator Moran’s staff, and going back and forth between her and the VA, and everyone, it required so many changes, and, you know, working to get it right. And just because you fall in love with one way of doing things does not mean that that’s how it’s gonna happen. And if you’re kind of firm and set in your ways, you’re not going to succeed. Like, your idea will run up against all of Congress and all of the United States government and everybody that’s an interested player, and either you will alter it a little bit to reflect that reality. Reflect those viewpoints or you won’t, and you’ll fail,

Colleen Rahn 6:23
Right. And so the way that you started off advocaten, in 2008, looked a little bit worked in 2008. But it had to look a little bit different with the Commander john Scott Hannon Act

Matthew Kuntz 6:42
It was definitely different. In terms of, you know, we, we had so many more partnerships that we built up over the past decade. But the one level of consistency was, we were still a relatively weak player, and everybody is, and we had to pivot. We had to make friends. We had to try to find out where everybody aligned and, you know, still sticking to what we cared about, and not changing the broad issue of what we were trying to get accomplished. But how do you alter some of the details or some of the tactics to be able to get that through and be able to have support for it?

Colleen Rahn 7:29
Right. Okay, so now I want to move on to another test of our flexibility when we were working on the Montana Mental Health Parity Act. How was that?

Matthew Kuntz 7:45
Yeah, so that one was brutal. And and I think it’s, you know, the first one kind of highlighted the interrelationship with Montana National Guard. The second one, it was, the Commander Hannon was high level congressional that veterans administration, all those stuff. This one It started out with, there was a big push to revise and update the Mental Health Parity acts around the country. And to be honest, not NAMI Montana, we’re a little bit skeptical about it. It was it seemed like it was a really big push for us. And we always lose something at the legislature or maybe a few things. And it’s how much work do you have to be able to do the thing that you’re going to lose with the idea that maybe in a few legislative sessions later, you’ll win? So I don’t even know if we were really ready in a in a position to run that legislation. But we had aabout push from our national organization. There were some folks interested in the state insurance commissioner Monica Lindeen’s office, and then also representative Laurie Bishop said that she wanted to do it. So that was kind of that combination of folks asking about it, maybe decided that we we would give it a go with Representative bishop. And it was an amazing, me challenging kind of way of working with everybody and trying to figure out what was the middle ground that everybody could agree on. And I remember rewriting that draft bill four times.

Colleen Rahn 9:53

Matthew Kuntz 9:54
And it was miserable. Like just we in the first one, we just had to throw out the first one completely. And the second one, because we were going back and forth with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana. And I knew that we were relatively closely aligned with them. And if we couldn’t agree on what the Montana Mental Health Parity Act would be, then it wasn’t even worth trying at the Legislature. So it took a couple of different drafts for us to come to agreement. And then we had to go to the new insurance commissioner, which is then Matt Rosendale, to try to get his staff to give it the go ahead. And it was really in depth, and we had to revise it and revise it. But then after that fourth one, we were able to come up with a bill that we could all agree on, and then give it a shot at the Legislature. And there was a lot of great folks that helped get that passed. But intellectually, we just had to pivot and change.

Colleen Rahn 11:11
Know who to work with,

Matthew Kuntz 11:12
Yeah, and know that there is something about this issue that we both care about, or that both sides can agree on. And we can’t let any of the kind of externalities hang us up. I always joke that crafting legislation is a little bit like trying to sneak in or out of a basement window, which I grew up in, in a basement bedroom. So I knew a lot about sneaking in and out of a basement window. And you know, you’ve got to, you got to make yourself really small. And if there’s any excess stuff, hanging off you it’s going to get stuck and that’s how I think of legislation. And you do have to be flexible, and figuring out what you have to keep. And what are you willing to give away?

Colleen Rahn 12:08
Yeah, and it’s tricky in legislative bills, because they’re, they can be super broad. But that doesn’t always work, as well as having just a, just an idea that you want to get through.

Matthew Kuntz 12:21
And sometimes those broad ones don’t end up accomplishing what people want. So you have to do that balance of breadth on an issue versus kind of specifically hammering something. And it’s not just with legislation, we found the same thing with grant writing, all of these things are developing partnerships and finding out what people can agree on. And we were right in the middle of a big grant, when you joined NAMI Montana.

Colleen Rahn 12:53

Matthew Kuntz 12:54
Do you have any memories of that that you want to share with the audience?

Colleen Rahn 12:59
No, I have memories of that. But I’m not sure that I should share them.

Matthew Kuntz 13:04
Yes. For calling join NAMI Montana. And right away, she saw me miserably struggling to work with Montana State University, and coming up with a research proposal and grant and I had never done that before. And I had never worked with a large team of researchers to put together something of that size. And it was really hard. It was it was really similar to doing massive legislation. And all these people have to agree. And you know that it’s important, and you know, that it’s worth kind of weathering out everybody’s concerns and weathering out people changing their mind and leaving the team. But boy, it required a lot of flexibility on that one.

Colleen Rahn 14:07
Oh yeah. A lot of a lot of time spent on the phone and a lot of time pacing back and forth. During that that grant writing process.

Matthew Kuntz 14:19
Yes, pacing back and forth, rocking back and forth, whatever else it took to be able to get through that. But it was definitely that same lesson of if you want to do something big; you have to be willing to adjust your vision to reflect the reality and other people’s reality and other organizations. And what we started that one off with was very different than what we ended up on. What we thought we could agree on was not what we eventually could.

Colleen Rahn 14:59
Right. Yeah, so there was like flexibility throughout that whole entire process. It started out as one thing. And then can you talk about what it ended up being?

Matthew Kuntz 15:11
That was how we got the money to help bring the Youth Aware of Mental Health program, which is one of the world’s most proven suicide prevention and mental health improvement for teenagers. That was how we got it to the United States. And it the principal investigator for that part of it was Dr. Matt Byerly. And that was his vision. And we were able to do that with that legislatively approved grant funding. And that program is still going is still run out of Montana State and it’s amazing, I think they’re up to 30 schools now. But we wouldn’t have been able to get off the groundif it wasn’t for willingness of everybody involved to be flexible and pivot, and work through things,

Colleen Rahn 16:08
What was the vision for the grant to start with?

Matthew Kuntz 16:13
The initial vision for that grant was much more technology based and much more neuroscience based. We had one Principal Investigator that changed his mind on that. And then, when MSU hired Matt Byerly in the middle, that was another change. So we kind of scrapped the PI that we were considering and moved in the new PI, and went from basically a neuroscience technology ground to a little bit of neuroscience and technology, but also a huge portion of youth mental health awareness, and suicide prevention, which is very, very different studies. Very, very different focuses, but it was able to kind of fit fit together.

Colleen Rahn 17:09
Yeah, yeah. And that’s I think, you know, because people that were involved were, again, they were willing to be flexible, to help people.

Matthew Kuntz 17:19
It took a lot of people working togother, a lot of different folks were willing to go kind of back and forth, and see what we needed to do to get that done. It was really cool. But it was just another lesson where if you are set in your ways, and if it’s going to be your way or the highway, you’re not going to get anything done, you know, especially a little tiny organization like NAMI Montana, we have to be able to kind of swim with the big fish, if we’re going to want to accomplish the things that we want to. But that requires us to realize that, hey, we’re not going to be setting the table, we’re not necessarily going to be choosing the meal. But we’ll be there to help make sure it goes right. Spread out the condiments or whatever,

Colleen Rahn 18:12
Yeah, whatever we need to do to get these things accomplished.

Matthew Kuntz 18:16
And I think it’s a lesson for local advocates as well – you need an idea to get started. But the idea that you get started with is probably not going to be the final one. What in that initial ideavan you absolutely not bend on? What is the most important thing? And then how can you keep that, yet change things just enough to be able to get other people and organizations to be able to support it as well? Right? It is a constant learning process. And we’re so grateful to everyone that helps us and supports us and backs us. And I guess that that leads us to the NAMIWalk is coming up. So it’s another great opportunity for people to short show their support for NAMI Montana

Colleen Rahn 19:15
NAMIWalk is scheduled for September 19 this year.

Matthew Kuntz 19:20
And we have our kickoff lunch coming up on August 12. It’s the Mary McCue Kickoff lunch. It’s a great way for sponsors and for other people to come and learn about the walk and learn about what we’re up to please contact the office. If you have any interest in attending that or check it out on our Facebook page.

Colleen Rahn 19:46
And also our website, Our information about the NamiWalk is on there as well. So Absolutely. Well, thank you, everybody, for for joining in and listening to our podcast this afternoon.

Matthew Kuntz 20:04
Thanks so much, everyone and Hannah will be back next week.

Colleen Rahn

Bye bye

Transcribed by


*** ***

The Treatment Scout website helps people find effective inpatient and residential care. It can also help you explore other intensive care options for mental health, addiction, etc. Find out more at

NAMI Montana’s has a resource guide for every county in Montana. Check it out at