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Groups Push VA Lawmakers to Ease Mental-Health Crisis

A coalition of mental-health advocacy groups, including Voices for Virginia's Children and NAMI Virginia, is calling attention to the need for more mental-health services and providers in the Commonwealth. (Adobe Stock)
A coalition of mental-health advocacy groups, including Voices for Virginia's Children and NAMI Virginia, is calling attention to the need for more mental-health services and providers in the Commonwealth. (Adobe Stock)
February 5, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Mental-health support groups are sponsoring an advocacy day today in Richmond, urging lawmakers to back funding to help Virginians deal with a growing mental-health crisis.

Gov. Ralph Northam aims to boost funding for the STEP-Virginia behavioral health system initiative, according to Bruce Cruser, executive director of Mental Health America's Virginia office. He said the program aims to provide equitable mental-health care throughout the state, regardless of local funding.

"The big push now will be outpatient mental-health services for children and adults, and mobile crisis teams, and peer and family-support services," he said, "as well as veterans' services."

Northam's new budget would add more than $175 million to the STEP-Virginia program. A recent Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report showed the program is falling short of its 2021 goal of providing same-day assessment for all mental-health outpatients.

Cruser said some rural parts of Virginia can't attract enough practitioners to meet the needs of a growing number of patients with mental-health challenges. He said the coalition also is pushing lawmakers to get more federal funding for a student-loan repayment assistance program for eligible mental-health providers.

"It would increase the number of practitioners by having an incentive," he said, "so the state would, say, provide payment of 25% of their loan debt each year in exchange for a year of service in an underserved community in Virginia."

A recent Mental Health America report showed that the Commonwealth consistently ranks near the bottom, at 41st among states, for providing access to a trained medical-health workforce. Meanwhile, the number of adults diagnosed with mental illnesses in Virginia has grown in the past four years, with the state ranking 40th in the nation.

The JLARC study is online at jlarc.virginia.gov, the Mental Health in America report is at mhanational.org, the Northam budget proposal is at governor.virginia.gov, and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health is at dbhds.virginia.gov.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA