Mental health system in Virginia still not receiving the serious attention and investment it needs

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    In an article written by Rep. Joseph R. Yost (12th District – Giles County, Radford, parts of Pulaski and Montgomery counties), the lawmaker articulately pointed out how the 2013 session of the Virginia General Assembly took two steps forward and one step back with regards to Virginia’s mental health system.

    Rep. Yost points out that the final budget passed by the VA General Assembly

    “included additional money for crisis assessment centers and children’s mental health services, doubled the appropriation for discharge assistance planning and provided new money for increased training and stigma reduction through Mental Health First Aid and suicide prevention training.”

    Who would seriously deny that these are legislative accomplishments?

    However, there is a darker side to the changes passed by the VA General Assembly that pertain to Virginia’s mental health system. Negative proposed changes that would affect the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services include: “reducing the reimbursement rate per hour by almost half and imposing stricter eligibility requirements on diagnosis, age and psychiatric history.”

    Ultimately, what these negative changes to Virginia’s mental health system will do is make it more difficult for Virginians to receive mental health treatment, especially Virginians in the less advantaged economic classes.

    Again, as Rep. Yost so well stated,

    “While I understand that the department is facing increasing pressure to make changes as a result of exponential growth in spending in Medicaid over the last 25 years, these changes will only shift the spending burden while doing little to help Virginia’s most vulnerable population.”

    All too often when discussing greater investments in education or helping Americans with mental health problems, individuals who argue against greater investment fail to account for the economic gains associated with a more educated workforce and a workforce more productive as a result of proper mental health treatment. These individuals only see the dollars being spent today and not the significant amount of money that will be saved tomorrow (not to mention the better lives that thousands, or even millions, of Americans will be able to live).

    There is also a sometimes stated, sometimes unstated, fear among individuals primarily of a ‘conservative’ political persuasion that the mental health system is some kind of “out” or excuse for lazy or weak-willed individuals in our society. And as usual, straw-men (or women) examples are given to totally discredit the reality that many, if not most, individuals who take advantage of our mental health system are truly in need of mental health services (please send me a factual reference that states otherwise).

    But the only “slippery slope” that expanding Virginia’s mental health services offers is a slope towards greater amounts of recovery from mental health problems. Is improving the lives of potentially thousands of individuals every year not worth the cost?

    If we cannot invest in the betterment of our fellow countrymen and women, then what game are we really playing at? What does all of the wealth that our country produces mean if Virginia (and America) is willing to sacrifice the lives of those it deems unworthy of a real shot towards happiness? If we are unwilling to take the time and money to help those less fortunate than ourselves, then the American dream is nothing more than a ridiculous end game that will no sooner succeed than it will fail at what is the most important component of human life: giving back.