Following the mass murders at Virginia Tech the one issue that nearly everyone agreed upon was the need to do more in the field of mental health—to identify and get treatment for those who are a threat to themselves and others. There seemed to be a moment when something might be done. And indeed, Virginia did allocate more money for mental health, but that was 2008; it is now more than five years later and Virginia has backtracked. The state now spends less on mental health than it did on the eve of April 16, 2007.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), between FY 2009 and FY 2011, Virginia’s expenditures on mental health dropped 9.1% from $424.3 million to $385.8 million. (“State Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis," a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2011) NAMI also points out “the risks of violence among a small subset of individuals may increase when appropriate treatment and support are not available. The use of alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication can also increase these risks.” Virginia made these cuts at a time when it was one of the few states running a budget surplus.
In his first three years after taking office, Governor McDonnell delivered budget surpluses each year. Virginia’s fiscal policy gained national attention. On July 31, 2012, Fox News lauded Virginia’s three years of budget surpluses under McDonnell, citing surplus of $220 million in 2010—the first year of McDonnell’s four-year term. Fox also said that the Virginia General Assembly had a surplus of $311 million in 2011 and that in 2012 the state had $129 million more in its General Fund than had been predicted. No one mentioned that part of this surplus came on the backs of one of the most vulnerable segments of society, the mentally ill. Fox News did not mention that cuts to mental health services have a potential impact on public safety: the risk of violence among a small number of mentally ill individuals increases when appropriate treatment and support are not available.
Virginia then, has not been starved for cash and its politicians at the highest levels in order to score points with right-wing pundits appear to have intentionally broken promises to the electorate to spend more for mental health. (To be continued)