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Virginia Legislators Fail to Act Responsibly in Wake of Virginia Tech
Date:2/7/2008

General Assembly offers nothing more than lip service reform

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following release was issued today by Jonathan Stanley, Esq., Assistant Director, Treatment Advocacy Center:

The deaths of 33 people at Virginia Tech should have been a wake-up call to legislators to provide real reform to the state's broken commitment laws. Instead, the General Assembly is considering little more than lip-service reform.

The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health and Human Resources eliminated the only chance for true reform this session when it declined to refer Senate Bill 177 to the full Finance Committee.

SB 177 would have established a modified version of Kendra's Law: a court-ordered community treatment law that would allow outpatient intervention before someone is in extreme crisis.

Virginia's mental illness treatment laws are among the most restrictive in the nation. To get help via involuntary treatment, the state currently requires that someone incapacitated by the symptoms of an illness such as schizophrenia be an immediate physical danger to themselves or others. That's simply too little, and often too late.

The only proposals now still alive for reform in the General Assembly require that individuals be visibly dangerous before getting treatment. These slight modifications to the existing law would keep Virginia's treatment standard among the worst in the nation.

Worst in the nation is not good enough for those like Kathy Harkey and her son Joshua. She and her family tried for four years without success to get treatment for Joshua, but every door was closed because he refused treatment and wasn't dangerous as defined by Virginia's current law. "Virginia's current law prevented us from obtaining the care our son needed until he was at death's door."

"Senate bill 177 was the only bill that would allow access to medical care for people like my son who need help and are currently being forced to needlessly suffer because they are denied access to treatment. Not being able to help your child get treatment until he's deemed dangerous is cruel and unusual punishment for people who are already suffering greatly from the effects of mental illness."

Her struggle to help her son ended when Joshua killed himself. He was 24.

Legislators should be ashamed. Hundreds of families across Virginia are unable to get treatment for loved ones who are psychotic though not considered dangerous. These families cannot afford to wait another year -- or another day -- for treatment law reform. Yet the General Assembly has decided they must.

The Treatment Advocacy Center (http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illnesses. We take no money from pharmaceutical companies.


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SOURCE Treatment Advocacy Center
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