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Virginia Tech Review Panel Calls For Reform of Mental Health Treatment Law
Date:8/31/2007

Gov. Kaine's independent panel urges less restrictive commitment standard

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- What happened to keep Seung Hui Cho from getting needed treatment and at what point could the Virginia Tech massacre have been prevented? The state-appointed panel charged with answering those questions released its report today, stating in part that "The Virginia standard for involuntary commitment is one of the most restrictive in the nation and is not uniformly applied."

The report details the many lost opportunities to help Cho and makes recommendations to improve Virginia's restrictive mental health treatment law.

The panel recommended that the involuntary treatment criteria be improved to "allow involuntary treatment in a broader range of cases involving severe mental illness." The current standard for involuntary commitment in Virginia for someone with a severe mental illness requires a person to be an "imminent danger to self or others" before he or she can be court-ordered to treatment. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to treat someone before they have harmed his or her self or someone else, or threatened to do so. About half of states have more humane standards that focus on the person's deteriorating condition and "need for treatment," rather than requiring them to deteriorate to "dangerousness."

The panel recommended that "reports of prior psychiatric history" be presented at the commitment hearing. Current Virginia law instructs magistrates to rely solely on what is happening currently with a person with untreated severe mental illness, ignoring what happened in the past. That means past episodes of violence, psychiatric history, and past treatment are not considered. As is clear from the extensive report on Cho, past history is not only relevant, but oftentimes critical.

"Gov. Kaine and the independent panel should be commended for not only identifying many of the flaws in the
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SOURCE Treatment Advocacy Center
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