A New Advocate at CPPP

Monica Villarreal, CPPP staff, Hogg Mental Health Policy Fellow

Hello! I’m excited to join the Health and Wellness team at CPPP as the organization’s first Hogg Foundation Mental Health Policy Fellow. I am a native of Monterrey, Mexico. I moved to Austin in 2010 to attend the University of Texas at Austin, and this past May I graduated with a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Throughout my life and academic career I have focused on issues affecting people with disabilities. I have worked as an advocate for people with disabilities through the Texas Association of Blind Students and the Disability Advocacy Student Coalition at UT Austin. As part of an advocacy effort I had the opportunity to go to Washington DC and educate members of Congress and their staff on issues affecting individuals with disabilities across the country. Further, I helped in the organization of awareness campaigns and events for the local Austin community to bring attention to the rights of people with disabilities.

In addition I worked as a policy and research analyst for Disability Rights Texas and the Workforce and Lifelong Learning team at the American Institutes for Research. It was here that I was able to get first-hand experience at the Texas Legislature. I participated in advocacy efforts during the 2015 Legislative Session to support bills that would help children in special education. It was thrilling for me to witness representatives voting on the different bills on the House floor from the third floor balcony.

The Hogg Foundation launched the Mental Health Policy Academy and Fellows initiative in 2010. The grant program aims to build individual and organizational capacity in mental health policy work. Texas nonprofits receive a foundation grant to hire and train a mental health policy fellow for up to two years. The policy fellows like me are recent graduates of law, social work, public policy or other related graduate programs. The foundation also funds a Mental Health Policy Academy for the mental health policy fellows and their mentors.

In this position I hope to assist CPPP with research and data, policy and budget analysis, public education, and advocacy on systemic insurance issues affecting Texans experiencing a mental health issue and/or substance use disorder. I will concentrate on policy issues related to the challenges of accessing the full spectrum of mental health and substance use benefits, whether through public or private insurance options. I hope to gain expertise on these topics as well as on mental health state budget issues and the Texas legislative process.

I look forward to being part of the great work being done at CPPP. As a person with a disability, I wasn’t aware of the many issues affecting people with mental illness and substance use disorders until I took a mental health policy class in graduate school. I quickly became a passionate advocate. This is an area of policy in which I wish to continue to immerse myself. I hope to continue my advocacy efforts and to actively help CPPP during the upcoming legislative session.

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