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How Virginia’s Mental Health Care Has Changed Since the Virginia Tech Massacre

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On April 16, 2007, a senior at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 more. The violence took place in two different attacks about two hours apart and ended with the perpetrator committing suicide. Until an attack on a nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016, the Virginia Tech massacre was the deadliest shooting carried out by a lone gunman.

Following the incident, a great deal of focus was placed on American and Virginian mental health laws and available care as well as gun control laws. This is because the perpetrator of the attack had been previously diagnosed as mentally ill and had a history of potentially violent behaviors, such as stalking. However, while he was ordered to receive treatment, the perpetrator was never institutionalized and was able to lawfully obtain firearms.

While Virginia has a long way to go to ensure individuals with mental health issues are properly diagnosed and have access to care, there have been some crucial improvements in the past decade. 

Changes to Virginia’s Mental Health Care

Some of the changes Virginia has witnessed since the Virginia Tech tragedy include:

  • Involuntarily commitment changed: The legislature modified the involuntary commitment statute to take out the requirement for imminent dangerousness within a person. This undefined standard made it incredibly hard for family and physicians to help individuals receive treatment. Now, if there is a substantial likelihood that a person would cause serious physical harm to himself in the near future or suffer serious harm due to his inability to care for himself, then involuntary commitment is possible.
  • Adjustments to emergency custody and temporary detention: When an involuntary commitment is sought for an individual, there is now a greater amount of time to ensure that individual is properly evaluated. Changes to the law also ensure that the person who is temporarily detained is placed in a psychiatric hospital until a hearing. If a private psychiatric bed is not available, the person is required by law to be placed in a state-run hospital.
  • Additional funding: Following the massacre, the Virginia General Assembly allocated $47.3 million to the state’s mental health care system. However, additional funding has not continued due to a number of factors, including the most recent recession.

Problems Still Exist

Virginia is in the bottom half of states for its ranking in regard to mental health care per person. In the 2013 fiscal year, Virginia spent $92.58 per capita. The American average was $119.62 per capita while Maine spent the most at $345.36 per capita. The state is also far behind in funding and creating an infrastructure of community-based health care, which could reach more people and ensure no one has to live without a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Another issue mental health advocates point out is the gap in care for young adults. While many children and teenagers receive attention and help while in school, this stops once they graduate from high school and move on to college. Once the individual turns 18 years old, they are then expected to help themselves and find community-based care or a private psychologist on their own. The truth is that this rarely happens so many young adults with mental illnesses move onto college or work without necessary mental health care.

Let the Leesburg Mental Illness Attorneys Help You and Your Family

If you believe your loved one is mentally ill and a danger to their self or others, contact us at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC. We have a thorough understanding of Virginia’s mental health laws and can help you seek an emergency commitment. Call us today at 703-997-4982.

Resources:

richmond.com/news/mental-health-system-has-improved-since-tech-but-has-a/article_9f7ab542-ff1c-5b17-b1d9-021b75dd5cd7.html

kff.org/other/state-indicator/smha-expenditures-per-capita/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22SMHA%20Expenditures%20Per%20Capita%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

fairfaxcounty.gov/csb/publications/involuntary-psychiatric-hospitalization.pdf

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Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC is located in Leesburg, VA and serves clients in and around Ashburn, Paeonian Springs, Hamilton, Sterling, Lincoln, Waterford, Leesburg, Purcellville, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Philomont, Round Hill, Arcola, Aldie, Dulles, Bluemont, Herndon, Haymarket, Reston, Great Falls, Clarke County, Fairfax County, Fairfax City County, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Frederick County, Warren County, Winchester County, Arlington County.

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