Virginia state budget cuts threatening funding for mental health services in Fairfax County ["Mental Health Care Endangered," Metro, Oct. 31] once again put the burden of the failure of compassion in society and in our leaders on those who have mental illnesses. The absurdity and insensitivity of this action are illustrated by the one remaining bed for indigents at Mount Vernon Hospital -- down from six beds just four years ago.

Isn't the need for a compassionate community response evident in the full house at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute? Some may say, "Everyone has to share the burden." But I dare them to compare longer lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or fewer shopping days at the ABC store, or even higher tuition at state universities, to the life-and-death struggle of a florid clinical depression or the torment of schizo- phrenia.

Contrary to the idea that these budget cuts will mean a "growing [number] of the dangerously psychotic . . . left on the streets," the truth is what Mount Vernon Hospital's Paul Luisada says: "More people will be killing themselves."

I hope the politicians have the decency to feel shame as they kick these people while they are down. But I doubt it.

WILLIAM ZACCAGNINO

Alexandria