Like APA's congressional fellows, APA Practice Organization Health Policy Fellow Joe Muga, PhD, is learning about national mental health policy setting--albeit slightly north of Capitol Hill, in Rockville, Md., at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the Office of Organization and Financing.

There, Muga--who has worked for California's state mental health system as a prison psychologist and administrator for more than 12 years--is getting a first-hand look at how behavioral health data are used to shape fiscal priorities and how financing programs like Medicaid shape the nation's service delivery.

On a typical day, Muga might track and analyze data from the dozens of behavioral health research projects--conducted by outside contractors and policy firms--that his three-person Office of Organization and Financing shepherds on topics from Medicaid to children's mental health services. Keeping abreast of such issues also requires Muga to meet regularly with economists, statisticians, public health administrators, mental health professionals and consumer advocacy groups, as well as attend such conferences as the recent meeting of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

In fact, he and fellow SAMHSA colleagues are planning a conference of their own--to be held in October--which will bring together state Medicaid and mental health administrators and consumer groups to discuss how to synchronize Medicaid and mental health services. "Medicaid is the prime mover and financer of public mental health services nowadays," says Muga. "So the better we can get those two areas coordinated, the better mental health services are going to be for lots of people."

When his fellowship ends in December, Muga, who recently earned a master's degree in public administration from San Diego State University, wants to use his new policy expertise and contacts in a different position within California's state mental health system. He also plans to encourage his colleagues, especially ethnic-minority psychologists, to get more involved with mental health services policy-making and research.

"With the ethnic demographic makeup of our nation changing rapidly, it is vital for those involved in mental health services research to take ethnic and cultural variables into consideration--yet the topic rarely comes up," says Muga. "I hope to encourage folks from diverse backgrounds to start doing mental health services research or to get involved in this process somehow."