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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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President Obama Stands with NAMI on Whistle Stop Tour

Matt Kuntz did NAMI proud over Inauguration Weekend. The executive director of NAMI Montana stood by President Barack Obama’s side on the caboose deck of the train that traveled from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.

Kuntz was one of 16 “everyday Americans” who have made “extraordinary contributions” whom Obama invited to his inauguration—but he was the only one invited to stand with him on the deck.

“It was just the president-elect, his wife, and myself,” said Kuntz. “It was amazing. The coolest thing about this was to see all the people so excited, just packing the rails and so excited to see what direction the country is moving in.”

Of his guests, Obama told the crowd in Philadelphia that saw them off, “Theirs are the voices I will carry with me every day in the White House.  Theirs are the stories I will be thinking of when we deliver the changes you elected me to make.”

Kuntz is a former attorney and West Point Army officer who met with then-candidate Obama in August 2008, shortly before he became NAMI Montana’s executive director. His stepbrother, Chris Dana, had returned home from Iraq, and while suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), died from suicide. Kuntz subsequently led the effort in Montana that resulted in a program to check members of the state National Guard for signs of PTSD every six months for the first two years after return from combat, and then once a year thereafter.

Obama has pledged to expand the program nationwide.

"Matt is a highly-regarded advocate," said NAMI national executive director, Michael J. Fitzpatrick. "The President’s invitation was a great honor for him and his family, NAMI Montana, and all of NAMI’s extended family."

"It also is a clear signal that the President-elect is aware and interested in helping individuals and families who live with mental illnesses."

During the presidential campaign, Obama answered in detail 24 questions that NAMI submitted to all candidates.

As the train moved toward Washington, Kuntz said that Obama told him to blow its horn. “He said everyone's got to try it at least once,” Kuntz said. “I did it three times.”

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