What is advocacy? To be an advocate is to be more than a cheerleader for a particular cause. For Mental Health America of Virginia, it means educating the community and policy makers about the complexities of mental health, offering supporting programs and resources to those who need it most, and changing the perceptions that surround individuals affected by mental illness.


MHA Affiliates meet with U.S. Senator Mark Warner’s Staff

Executive Directors from four Virginia MHA affiliates met recently with U.S. Senator Mark Warner’s staff to provide information on mental health needs in Virginia and MHA affiliate services.

Bruce Cruser (MHA Virginia/Richmond), Anna Mendez (Partner for Mental Health/Charlottesville), Ashley Reynolds Marshall (MHA Roanoke Valley) and Donna Gum (MHA Augusta/Staunton)

Mental Health Advocacy Update

We were glad to partner for Mental Health Advocacy Day again this year, working with Voices for Virginia’s Children, NAMI Virginia and VOCAL in a major presence for mental health at the Virginia General Assembly on January 25th. Over 100 people attended! A few pics can be found here.

Virginia General Assembly on January 25th

National Healthcare Reform Legislative Update

  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that 14 million Americans would lose health insurance by 2018 and 24 million would lose coverage by 2026 under the proposed new health care laws.

Advocacy Tool

What can you do to save Mental Health Care Protections in health care reform discussions? Legislators are compelled to follow the wishes of their constituents! It is imperative to educate, act, and amplify your voice during the legislative process.

  • Educate Your Community About What Is at Stake – Paul Gionfriddo’s Blog Post on the AHCA
  • Take Action to Protect Mental Health Reform by Contacting People in Charge –
    • Tell your story of why protecting mental health reform matters to you. Here’s an example story.
    • Send your story to Congress through our Action Alert!
    • Call your Senators and Representative to verbally go on record, and let us know you did.
    • Post social media updates about the importance of protecting mental health care reforms and tag your member
      • Sample post:  @SpeakerRyan The AHCA bill harms my family and friends by eliminating basic health benefits like seeing a therapist. Please vote against any measure that repeals coverage that I need. #SaveMentalHealthReform
      • Sample tweet: @SpeakerRyan It is Congress’ job to help people access all health services they need. The AHCA would take this away #SaveMentalHealthReform

Letter to Senators Warner and Kaine

MHA Virginia affiliates and Mental Health America’s national President and CEO, Paul Gionfriddo, sent the attached letter to Senator Warner (and a similar letter to Senator Kaine) in February asking him to work with us to strengthen the health care system to better benefit all Americans, especially people with mental health or substance use challenges, their families, and providers. [LINK TO LETTER]


2017 Policy and Legislative Priorities

Increase Access to Mental Health Care

All Virginians with mental health issues deserve access to timely, appropriate, affordable services as early as possible. MHA affiliates in Virginia work for expanded access to mental health care for Virginians of all ages – whether they are insured, under-insured, or uninsured – in both the public and private sectors.

  • Eliminate waiting lists through “same day access” throughout the state. Now in place in only a few localities, streamlined appointment protocols are getting good results. More people are getting services earlier, when their symptoms are treated more effectively, and agencies are using their resources more efficiently.
  • Use incentives to encourage greater mental health coverage by providers of all types, including tele psychiatry, and to integrate health and mental health services in the community.

Provide Appropriate Diversion from the Criminal Justice System

Too many Virginians who need mental health services are instead arrested and incarcerated in our jails and prisons, often with tragic results. All localities should screen for diversion at the earliest stage of the criminal justice process. For those who are confined, services must be timely, professional and based on individual needs.

  • Support jail diversion for people accused of crimes for whom voluntary mental health or substance use treatment is a reasonable alternative to confinement.
  • Support increased transparency and a clear process of accountability for the mistreatment of anyone with a mental illness while in local or state custody.
  • In capital cases when death or life in prison are the sentencing options, exclude from eligibility for the death penalty those who suffer from serious mental illness at the time of their crime.

Expand Peer Support and Peer Run Programs

Peer support provides a valuable addition to the mental health care delivery system. With quality training a person of lived experience and recovery can assist others in the recovery process. Peer support is recognized as an evidence-based approach to mental health care that reduces crisis relapse and increases successful community engagement. Medicaid has approved a process for reimbursing mental health peer support in 2017.

  • Public and private agencies throughout the continuum of care should include peer support to help improve access and deliver positive outcomes.
  • Government and private insurance should support services provided by Certified Peer Recovery Specialists in health care, supportive housing, employment, criminal justice and other settings.

The Death Penalty and Severe Mental Illness

MHAV is part of a coalition of mental health advocates and other organizations that are educating Virginians about our concerns with sentencing to death those who have a severe mental illness. This “exclusion” would not apply to whether someone is guilty or not guilty, only to whether he or she is eligible for the death penalty as opposed to life without parole. Virginia already excludes people with intellectual disabilities from the death penalty. Excluding those with SMI would simply treat these individuals the same way that we already treat people with intellectual disabilities. Such a change would affect only a very small percentage of cases, but is important for consistent due process. For more information, please visit the Virginia Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion


Virginia Request Letter to US Department of Justice Oct 2016

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Federal Investigation Request Letter June 2016

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