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After Deeds Tragedy, Mental Health To Be Priority Issue For Va. General Assembly

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In Virginia, the tragic death of a state senator's son is shining a new spotlight on mental health issues just as legislators are preparing for the upcoming General Assembly session.

The debate about mental health services is likely to come down to one issue — money, specifically how much is available and what will it pay for. Shortly after the Virginia Tech massacre, a commission on mental health services made a series of recommendations that have yet to be fully funded. Now legislators want that money to be made available.

"What we have to do is to make sure that we are providing as comprehensive a set of services as we can to help people with mental illness stabilize themselves and get on the road to recovery so they can manage their situation as best as they can and hopefully never get to that crisis," says State Senator George Barker.

To that end, Barker says, lawmakers should focus their attention on investing in crisis stabilization, so people with mental illness get help before it's too late. Barker also says General Assembly members should increase funding for outpatient services, another way to keep problems from spiraling out of control.

Alexandria Community Services Board executive director Michael Gilmore says one of the best things legislators can do is take advantage of federal funding to expand Medicaid available under the Affordable Care Act. "Many more people will have access to insurance. And maybe more hospitals will be willing to accept people," he says.

In the next few weeks, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services is set to issue a new report on the emergency evaluation process — just in time for the General Assembly session.

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