Too little, too late on Va. mental health care

PeterGaluszkaIt seems so little so late.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, apparently trying to get some 11th hour positive press before leaving office, has announced that he wants to put $38.3 million into improving the state’s mental health system. He also wants to expand the amount of time an individual can be held for initial psychiatric evaluation.

While any money for Virginia’s sagging mental health system is welcome, McDonnell’s beau geste is suspect. It comes just three weeks after a tragedy in which state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds was seriously wounded by his son, Austin, who killed himself following the altercation. Austin Deeds had been the subject of a judge’s emergency custody order but returned home because of problems finding a hospital bed for him.

McDonnell does not have a history of providing much support for the mentally ill. and, in fact, last year, suggested cutting $1.5 million from the system. Incredibly, this was around the time of the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

McDonnell says that his new budget recommendation isn’t directly related to the Deeds affair but comes as a result of studying the Sandy Hook massacre. In other words, it took McDonnell an entire year to analyze the Connecticut bloodletting and come up with recommendation. Sounds like a truly strong personal priority.

Moreover, the $38.3 million merely takes Virginia back to post-Virginia Tech days. After a disturbed student methodically shot and killed 32 students and teachers and then himself in 2007, the state boosted mental health funding by $42 million. But about $37 million of that flittered away when tax revenue dropped in 2009 and 2010 because of the recession.

In other words, McDonnell is merely returning us back to where we were about three years ago.

Now that’s enlightened leadership.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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