Families rally at the State Capitol for mental health money

Posted at 10:43 AM, Jan 16, 2012
and last updated 2012-01-17 12:55:18-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Hundreds of people rallied at the Virginia State Capitol Monday in an effort to convince state lawmakers to boost funding and improve mental heath services for residents.

The rally comes as Virginia continues negotiating with the Department of Justice, trying to avoid a federal lawsuit.

Last February, the DOJ filed a report citing Virginia for 'violating federal law,' the Americans With Disabilities Act, by not providing adequate community care for its residents.

"This is a community issue that all people need to be concerned about," a Tidewater-area mom, Lisa Lane, told CBS 6 on Monday.

"We are all a breath away from living with a disability," continued Lane, "whether it be a car accident, the birth of a child or a family member or loved one who's injured."

Lane has been waiting for a Medicaid intellectual disability waiver for her daughter, Sadie, for almost five years.

Virginia is trying to manage a swelling waiting list for Medicaid disability waivers- essentially a bundle of services designed to keep people living in communities, and not institutions.

The list tops 7,000 people right now, with many of those applicants waiting for 5, 10, 15 years or longer.

"There are so many people out there who need help," said Tommy Coon, a local parent who's just now trying to get a Medicaid waiver for his son, Brian. "I see it every day [as a Special Olympics coach], there are parents who actually can't make ends meet because of it."

On Monday, support flowed from Virginia state leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Delegate Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, told the crowd of several hundred, "let's keep fighting until we all have the support and the opportunities that we deserve."

Ken Cuccinelli, the state's Attorney General and a former member of the state senate, implored the group to "educate lawmakers, educate them."

"Even before you start the lobbying process," said Cuccinelli, "educate them because they have to understand the context of what you're asking for, and why."

For some people who turned out Monday, the goal includes hundreds of more Medicaid waiver slots as the state tries to make a *dent in its goal of eliminating the waiting list by 2020.

For other advocates of mental health services, requests include better crisis response services- like mobile crisis teams and stabilization units- as well as a proposal to increase the number of child psychiatrists available in the state.

Last session, the General Assembly signed off on the first ever crisis stabilization fund, and made a down payment of $30 million to a newly-created 'trust fund' for disability services.

"People who through no fault of their own can't care for themselves, I think it's a priority group even for the frugal among us," Cuccinelli told CBS 6."It is a challenged topic, but we all want what's best for as many Virginians as possible."

When pressed on when the DOJ negotiations could be completed, and whether it's casting a cloud over lawmakers this session, Cuccinelli acknowledged the talks have had an impact.

"I think it's fair were getting near the end of that discussion," said Cuccinelli. "I really can't go into details as it is a live negotiation and there are a lot of moving pieces, but from Virginia's perspective it's gone as well as it could."