Virginians rally for those with mental disabilities

Amy Jones, 38, had a 4.0 GPA in school but dropped out after her insurance stopped covering the costs of her medication. She suffers from a mental health disorder and substance abuse.

“I ended up self-medicating, and I ended up here in Richmond at a facility center, which is helping save my life, because it’s helping me to get back on track, get my medications again, so that I can be productive again,” Jones said.

On Monday, she joined about 100 other people at the Bell Tower on Capitol Square for a rally organized by the Coalition for Virginians with Mental Disabilities. Participants encouraged legislators to improve services for people with mental disabilities.

For instance, Jones stays at Rubicon Inc., a substance abuse and mental health facility. But it may shut down for lack of funding. Jones said the best way to help people like her is not to put them in jail but to provide preventive facilities and help fund medication.

“Don’t throw me in jail. Don’t shut down things I need, like Rubicon. Don’t cut off my medications. I stand here today just like a normal person, only due to the fact that I have medications,” Jones said.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli spoke at the rally. He said that when he was a senator from Fairfax, he pushed to expand services for Virginians with mental disabilities.

As a general rule, people must live in an institution to receive Medicaid funding; however, the state can grant waivers to provide assistance for disabled residents. But there is often a waiting list for mental retardation waivers and developmental disabilities waivers.

Cuccinelli said he has advocated granting more Medicaid waivers.

“What we need to do is have systems in place that reduce the likelihood of mental illness getting worse, so we are helping people and reduce the frequency of things like Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech,” Cuccinelli said, referring two of the nation’s worst mass shootings.

Tori Purdy’s 13-year-old son has autism. She came to the rally to thank legislators for increasing the number of developmental disability waivers.

Because of the waiver, Purdy said, her son can live outside of an institution – and her family can live like any other.

Cuccinelli said he fears a backlash against people with mental disabilities because of shootings like the one last month in Connecticut.

“You get something like Sandy Hook, where you get an Adam Lanza, who’s not well, and people sort of project Adam Lanza across all people suffering from mental illness,” Cuccinelli said.

“That’s just not an accurate projection. Most people suffering from mental illness are victims of aggression, of aggressive behavior and violence. They aren’t committers of it.”

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