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Votes

Letter: Improving Mental Health Services

To the Editor:

The following open letter was addressed to the state senators and delegates representing Fairfax County.

I apologize for not being able to attend this year’s hearing. I want to thank you all for once again allowing your constituents to voice our concerns and express our wishes for this new legislative session. On behalf of Angel Fund, created in memory of Reema Samaha, one of the 32 killed at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, I would like to thank all of you who voted to pass HB 2322 and SB 1078 requiring community colleges to develop mental health referral policies.

I would also like to thank you for passing HB 1609 and SB 1342 requiring our colleges and local mental health facilities to enter into memoranda of understanding in order to better exchange information and facilitate student transition back to school.

This year, we have two requests and hope that you will support our efforts. The first request is to fund a pilot program that provides services to emotionally disabled teenagers to transition into adulthood. There are no programs at this time in the Commonwealth of Virginia that provide transitional services to emotionally disabled high school graduates until the age of 21.

These young people struggle to find a job, live on their own, obtain an education. A number of them end up homeless, addicted to drugs or alcohol, commit crimes and end up in prison. The Governor’s Task Force for School and Campus Safety’s Workgroup for Mental Health identified the need for better transitional services for this group of young people.

Ironically, Senator Creigh Deeds, prior to the tragic suicide of his son, offered to sponsor a budget amendment for this pilot program. The brainchild of Beth Hilscher, whose daughter, Emily, was also killed on April 16, 2007, the pilot program would be housed at Ivy Creek school in Charlottesville. Ivy Creek educates emotionally disabled students from K-12.

The program would start sophomore year and guide students through graduation, helping them transition into the world of work and higher education. The cost of the program over a three-year period would be approximately $367,000.

Senators Janet Howell, Chap Petersen, Dick Saslaw and Tommy Norment have expressed their support along with Delegates Rob Bell, Tim Hugo and David Toscano. We would like for this delegation to support this budget amendment. Our intent is to emulate the pilot in Fairfax County and Virginia.

Our second request is an amendment to the language for threat assessment teams. Del. Eileen Filler-Corn has graciously offered to sponsor and Del. Tim Hugo to co-sponsor this bill in the House and Sen. Chap Petersen in the Senate. If passed, this law would encourage faculty and staff to report concerns of students who have made threats against others or themselves to the threat assessment teams. These teams have proven quite effective in keeping our campuses safe and this would help them gather the information they need from those members of the campus community who have direct contact with students.

Thank you again for your service and concern for your constituents. We look forward to working with you this next session.

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb

Angel Fund Board President