Increased spending on mental health is critical to preventing these shootings. The shooters at the Appalachian School of Law, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, and Sandy Hook were all mentally ill. Yet we see what has happened in Virginia—the state cut funds for mental health programs and then-Governor McDonnell made the situation worse by privatizing mental health care. Privatization will, over the long run, cost more than if it is in the hands of the state. The quality of care will go down, not up. Privatization will however, probably make some people in Virginia wealthy.
Governor McDonnell’s privatization of 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 based his proposal on the system implemented by the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Christie Todd Whitman. The New Jersey system apparently has not saved money, it has led to more vagrancy (and probably crime), and has drastically undercut the quality of mental health.
I personally witnessed an example of the New Jersey program, after spending an evening with a professor and her students from a New Jersey state university. We made over 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and put them in bags along with fruit and water. We then went to the train station in Newark, which was packed with homeless, the vast majority of whom appeared to suffer 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. Based on this experience, New Jersey’s mental health care system apparently has not improved and appears to be costing more money than it has saved.
If accurate, then New Jersey’s privatization of mental health care is not a program to emulate—it is a program to be avoided.
Virginians should reject any move to cut funds for mental health or to privatize the program. Mass shooters such as those at the Appalachian School of Law, Virginia Tech, and elsewhere 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 was specious; it is an insult to the Virginia Tech families and victims. McDonnell has tried to conceal from the electorate that he is doing little that is meaningful about mental health care and school safety. For example, in 2011 he launched the “College Campus Safety and Violence Prevention Public Service Challenge”—a jingle contest. (Really? A jingle contest is going to help stop school shootings?)
Students were asked to create 30-second videos; something like soap commercials. The Office of Substance Abuse Prevention would narrow entries for online voting. (Neither of the two Virginia school shooters were substance abusers.)
Why the contest? First, to draw attention away from, and perhaps to undercut, the litigation against high ranking Virginia Tech officials; second, to appear to be doing something meaningful, when in fact that is not the case; third, to avoid tackling continuing weaknesses in the law regarding campus safety; and fourth, to cover up the governor’s abysmal record as Attorney General during the Tech tragedy.
Governor McDonnell’s foolish, shortsighted policy on mental health took a tragic turn on November 19, 2013 when Austin (Gus) Deeds, the son of prominent Virginia State Senator Creigh Deed, stabbed his father repeatedly and then took his own life. Press reports indicated that an emergency custody order was issued for Gus Deeds the day before the attack and he was taken to the Rockridge Area Community Service Center, which treats mental illness and substance abuse. Young Deeds was released because a psychiatric bed could not be found for him. Unconfirmed media reports have indicated that beds were available, but that communication between medical facilities dealing in psychiatric care was so poor that the Rockridge facility was unaware of that fact. No matter what the reason for the young man’s release, the Deeds family paid a horrific price for McDonnell’s budget cuts. Gus Deeds shot and killed himself after stabbing his father.
McDonnell’s budget cuts for mental health are particularly galling when you stop to think that Virginia taxpayers have had to shell out over $570,000 in legal expenses as a result of a federal criminal investigation against the governor. That money would have bought quite a few beds in the state’s psychiatric wards.
When Is The Right Time?
The deceit is not just at the state level; it includes those elected to federal office.
Following the Tucson shooting that killed six and seriously wounded 12 others including Rep. Gabriele Giffords, members of the Brady Campaign asked to meet with House Speaker John Boehner to discuss ways to curb gun violence. Boehner declined. According to the Huffington Post (April 15, 2012), he said now is not the time. We would ask, “What better time to discuss ways to curb gun violence than in the aftermath of a member of Congress being shot?”
On the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, Brady Campaign officials asked to meet with Louisiana Senator Vitter to discuss a bill he had introduced making it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns.
According to a Brady Campaign worker, Vitter was too busy.
Boehner isn’t too busy to visit tanning booths and Vitter found time to frequent New Orleans prostitutes. (In July 2007, Vitter was identified by the media as a client of a prostitution service during the DC Madam scandal.)
More recently we have 12 dead and some 50 wounded in a movie theatre in suburban Denver, then two killed and one wounded at a shopping mall outside Portland, Oregon, and now the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. So when is the right time to discuss keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons, convicted domestic abusers, and mentally ill people who are a threat to themselves and others? (To be continued)