Sunday, May 15, 2011

McDonnell’s Health Care Betrayal

Governor McDonnell’s intention to privatize Virginia’s mental health system is a betrayal of the electorate and an insult to the victims of the Virginia school shootings. The governor apparently bases his proposal on the system implemented by the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Christie Todd Whitman. The New Jersey system has not saved money, has led to more vagrancy, (and probably crime), and has drastically undercut the quality of mental health.

Under the privatization scheme, vouchers are given to the mentally ill to use at private clinics. Most of these people are so ill that they have no jobs, cannot afford a car, and there is no public transportation to get them to the clinics. They are left homeless and on the street.

I recently witnessed the terrible results of the New Jersey program. I spent an evening with a professor and her students at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. We made over 100 peanut and jelly sandwiches and put them in bags along with fruit and water. We then went to the train station in Newark.

The station was packed with homeless, the vast majority of whom suffered from some form of mental illness. There were police everywhere, (an added taxpayer expense), in an effort to prevent crime and assure commuters they were safe.

Virginians should reject any move to cut funds for mental health or to privatize the program. Both the shooters at Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech were unstable and in need of mental health care. Following the Virginia Tech massacre, President George W. Bush called for greater government spending on mental health.

McDonnell’s argument for privatization of mental health care is specious. It is an insult to the victims of the two school shootings and their families.

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