VOR Calls for Mental Health Reform - Extends Heartfelt Sympathy For Sandy Hook Families and Community

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“Politics over diverse issues have divided our nation,” said Julie Huso, VOR Executive Director. “There can be no justice for these senseless killings in Connecticut and elsewhere, but uniting as a nation will get us as close to healing as possible and help prevent tragedies in the future.”

VOR - VOR is a national organization that advocates for high quality care and human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

VOR - VOR is a national organization that advocates for high quality care and human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

VOR, a national organization advocating for high quality care and human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, joins the chorus of heartfelt sympathy expressed for the families and friends of the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy. While many citizens and organizations are taking aim at gun control, VOR believes that systemic reform of disability and mental health policies is critically necessary to prevent future violence.

“Politics over diverse issues have divided our nation,” said Julie Huso, VOR Executive Director. “There can be no justice for these senseless killings in Connecticut and elsewhere, but uniting as a nation will get us as close to healing as possible and help prevent tragedies in the future.”

“We can't tolerate this anymore,” stated President Barak Obama, as he addressed a grieving nation Sunday night. “‘These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change.” (Transcript of President’s Remarks __Transcript of President’s Remarks __, reprinted by The Washington Post, December 16, 2012)

For 30 years, VOR has been calling on Congress to support specialized treatment options for people with profound intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Too many people who need help have nowhere to go, are turned away, are displaced from specialized care, or are not adequately treated and monitored,” said Huso. “Patients’ rights have trumped almost completely safety – to self and others -- in the name of ‘deinstitutionalization’ and ‘integration.’”

Decades of deinstitutionalization has resulted in the depletion of an adequate safety net for people who need our help.

“Our mental health system has completely failed individuals with severe mental illness and their communities,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director for the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization which advocates for timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness. “We have emptied the nation's hospitals, gutted state and local mental health programs, and turned involuntary treatment into a debate point instead of using it as a viable option to prevent tragedy involving those too ill to help themselves.” [Treatment for Mental Illness Should be as Easy to Get as Guns, Treatment Advocacy Center (December 14, 2012)].

Beginning in the 1960s, closing specialized care centers for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness – “deinstitutionalization” – was meant to advance the civil liberties of those inappropriately institutionalized by offering care and supports in a less restrictive environment.

Some advocates, however, say deinstitutionalization has gone much too far. Today, people with profound developmental disabilities and health concerns, and those with severe mental illness, are being removed from highly specialized care or prevented from accessing such care in the first place.

“What began with altruistic motives – namely, better and more appropriate care for disabled people – has spawned into something very different,” remarked Huso. “Today, very fragile people are being forced from their homes under the belief that money will be saved and quality of life will improve.”

“We’re protecting civil liberties at the expense of health and safety,” says Fuller. “Deinstitutionalization has gone way too far.” (“Seven facts about America’s mental health-care system,” The Washington Post (quoting Fuller) (December 14, 2012))

VOR calls for reform, beginning with a moratorium on deinstitutionalization

Tragedies will continue to befall people with I/DD, children, adults, and citizens if our laws and policies continue to support deinstitutionalization, depriving people with disabilities of needed specialized, residential care and treatment.

“Over and over again, news investigations and state audits show that these very fragile individuals need comprehensive, skilled care. They are the ICU residents of the disability community. Scattering them in homes around a community only separates them from qualified staff, life-sustaining health care, oversight, and friends,” said Ann Knighton, VOR’s president.

“Prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill,” wrote Liza Long, whose son, Michael has severe mental illness. [“I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” by Liza Long (The Blue Review, December 14, 2012)].

President Obama vowed to use “whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.” (Transcript of President’s Remarks, reprinted by The Washington Post, December 16, 2012)

Yet, a significant part of the problem begins at his doorstep, says VOR.

“Significant federal funds and energies by powerful federal agencies are dedicated to deinstitutionalization,” said Tamie Hopp, Director of Government Relations and Advocacy for VOR. “The Justice Department has pursued more than 30 legal actions which at their core aim to displace individuals from specialized care options. In Georgia, a Justice Department settlement calls for moving 9,000 people with mental illness from mental health facilities by 2015.” (“Olmstead: Community Integration for everyone,” U.S Department of Justice’s Olmstead Enforcement Website); (U.S. v. Georgia Fact Sheet, U.S. Department of Justice (October 19, 2012)

Likewise, in a move that VOR characterizes as “reckless,” the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency, last month released a 300 page policy document and toolkit calling for the closure of all “institutions,” which it defines as any setting larger than 4 people. [“Deinstitutionalization: Unfinished Business,” National Council on Disability (November 2012); “Reckless disregard shown for the needs and choices of vulnerable persons with severe and profound disabilities,” VOR (December 2012)]

“As a nation, the Sandy Hook tragedies have left us heartbroken,” said Hopp. “Families of individuals with profound cognitive disabilities recognize the reform that is needed better than most. Their sons and daughters need highly specialized treatment. Instead federal agencies, some state governments and advocates, are putting energies into removing their loved ones from treatment”

We agree with the President. “This must end.” (Transcript of President’s Remarks, reprinted by The Washington Post, December 16, 2012).

About VOR:
VOR is a national organization that advocates for high quality care and human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Offering community, legal, medical and educational resources for families of individuals with special needs, VOR is committed to providing help for people with disabilities. Standing up for long term care facilities and community disability programs, VOR is dedicated to maintaining family choice for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For more information about VOR, please visit us at http://www.vor.net __VOR__.

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Julie Huso
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