Speaker #59 at Public Hearing on the State Budget

Public Comment on the Governor’s Proposed Amendments to the 2018-2020 Biennial State Budget

[On January 3, 2019, the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees of the Virginia General Assembly held regional public hearings on the Governor’s Proposed Amendments to the 2018-2020 Biennial State Budget. Below is part of the comment presented by Mental Health America of Virginia.]

Good afternoon. My name is Bruce Cruser, Executive Director of Mental Health America of Virginia, representing our 7 local mental health association affiliates in Virginia. I am also speaking in support of many you have heard from already.

Historically, Virginia government has performed poorly in helping children and adults with a mental illness. There have been improvements in recent years, thanks to your efforts and others in the legislature, with better planning, coordination and funding. However, our state still ranks in the bottom third nationally, and funds community mental health at only half of the national average.

The Community Services Boards are our public mental health service, and STEP Virginia is the current plan to strengthen them across the state in ways that will help thousands more residents get the help they need, and get it early to achieve the best outcomes.

We support currently budgeted increases for mental health, and an additional $15 million for outpatient services to help the CSBs meet their mandate as required by the STEP Virginia legislation. The results will be fewer traumatized children, fewer people in jail, and more Virginians living healthy, productive lives.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak today, but as I left my office building to come here this morning, I asked someone I passed in a nearby office how their New Year’s went. Their response was totally unexpected. They said it was very sad. The young man in a neighboring apartment, a bright, creative student, died by suicide on New Year’s Eve.

I decided it is important to speak up, and to keep bringing attention to the need for better mental health services. They save lives.

Thank you.