Subcommittee approves measure to improve mental-health commitment laws

General Assembly Report by Rob Bell

rob-bell.jpgAfter the shootings at Virginia Tech, a lot of attention was focused on improving Virginia’s mental-health commitment system. I was appointed chairman of a special subcommittee to review these bills, and on Friday, the committee approved seven major proposals …

– Improved commitment standard, allowing intervention earlier when someone presents a danger to himself or others, or is unable to care for himself.

– Clear lines of responsibility and better oversight for those receiving outpatient care, including requiring community-services boards to attend all commitment hearings to ensure that no one is able to avoid treatment and requiring community-services boards to report noncompliance with treatment back to the court.

– Permission to present medical records and other evidence of past episodes at commitment hearings.

– Provisions for parents and treating doctors to testify at commitment hearing.

– More time for examination and evaluation of those being committed to improve accuracy.

– Better information sharing between law enforcement, physicians and mental-health providers, so that all are better able to perform their jobs in an involuntary commitment.

– Appeals for either side if dissatisfied with the outcome.

Taken as a whole, these constitute the most sweeping overhaul of Virginia’s commitment laws in 30 years. We are hopeful that we will never again have someone like Mr. Cho fall between the cracks and fail to receive the care he needs.


Visiting and Testifying

Our deliberations were greatly improved by mental-health professionals and consumers who testified. Many came from Central Virginia. In addition, this week local veterans, insurance agents, a local veterinarian and several unaffiliated citizens visited me.

If you are interested in a bill, please stop by my office and talk to my staff or me.

I can be reached at the General Assembly Building, P.O. Box 406, Richmond, Va. 23218 – 804.698.1058.


Rob Bell represents the 58th House District in the Virginia General Assembly.

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