Senate Joint Resolution 42, introduced by Senator L. Louise Lucas during the 2008 General Assembly Session, was amended to request that the Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) complete a two-year study regarding “the impact of certain recommendations and legislation on the mental health system in the Commonwealth." JCHC was directed to complete an interim report during the first year of study.
Numerous studies and reports dating as far back as 1949, have found Virginia’s mental health system to be critically lacking in community-based services. A national study, Grading the States: A Report on America’s Health Care System for Serious Mental Illness (2006) by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) gave Virginia an overall grade of “D" for its public mental health system. While the NAMI report considered Virginia’s efforts to increase funding and promote recovery-based policies to be positive steps, the report also noted: “Beneath the excitement and hope…lies the reality that Virginia’s public system has suffered from years of deep cuts that fell disproportionately on the community system." (Source: Grading the States: A Report on America’s Health Care System for Serious Mental Illness, p. 171.)
The tragic Virginia Tech incident in April 2007 brought further attention to weaknesses in Virginia’s mental health system. A number of investigations of the incident were undertaken, numerous hearings and meetings were held, and the Commission on Mental Health Law Reform (established in 2006 by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia) accelerated its timetable to examine issues related to the civil commitment process. In response to the findings of these investigations and studies, significant new funding and statutory changes were introduced during the 2008 General Assembly Session. JCHC’s Behavioral Health Care Subcommittee heard from representatives of the Commission on Mental Health Law Reform; community services boards; the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services; physicians; sheriffs; and special justices regarding both enacted and proposed statutory changes. An interim report regarding the work of the Behavioral Health Care Subcommittee will be submitted at a later date for publication as a Senate document.
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