Parents Prepare Fight Against Mental Health Cuts

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Valley parents are preparing to ask lawmakers to reconsider some proposed budget cuts to mental health funding.

Gov. Tim Kaine (D) announced his budget proposal last month, and it includes freezing or cutting funds to many mental health and other health care programs.

Those cuts would have an impact on several local families, including the McCormicks in Rockingham County.

Those families will have their first chance to take their concerns directly to budget writers during a hearing Thursday at noon at James Madison University.

Four-year-old Cole McCormick has autism. His mom, Karen McCormick, says treating Cole is very costly.

Karen remembers, "[The] first year, I spent over $20,000 out of pocket. And I'm thinking, 'OK, well there goes half my retirement.' Now, what do people do that can't afford to do this?"

Karen recently secured what's called a waiver. It'll pay for someone to help take care of Cole and give him a chance to interact with kids his age.

"One thing about autism is every child is different. And some kids don't really learn so much from watching. They learn more from doing. But Cole does learn from watching other children," says Karen.

The wait list for waivers is long.

Securing one was a huge step for McCormick.

However, those who are waiting will likely wait even longer. Kaine has proposed freezing the wait list next year.

According to data from various community services boards in Virginia, there are more than 5,000 people on wait lists for many kinds of waivers.

"It's just the way it had to be. There's no getting around having to cut money in the face of a recession that has gone on for so long and has been so deep into Virginia's economy," says Gordon Hickey, press secretary for Kaine.

Mary Ellen Chewning thinks there may be a way around some of the cuts to mental health. She's head of the ARC of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, a non-profit organization that works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"We understand the dilemma of the money. But, we have to fight for our people. That's what it boils down to," says Chewning.

Chewning says she would support a tax increase, something against which Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell (R) campaigned.

Chewning and Karen understand the pressures facing the state, but they say these cuts are too much.

"There's a ton of people that should be on this waiver that aren't. They're just doing without. But, for the people that have been on the waiver, it has just been a godsend to because they actually feel sane," says Karen.