No funding cuts to Medicare or mental retardation

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 4, 2002

Editor, the News-Herald,

The Commonwealth of Virginia already ranks 46th in the United States in providing funding for people with mental retardation. One out of 12 households has a person with a developmental disability and most of these people are not being served and cannot even be placed on waiting lists, because there are no available Medicaid Waiver slots.

There are currently over 5,000 people awaiting services in the Commonwealth, many of whom have waited for years, and the schools are graduating more every year to be added to the list. The parents and caregivers of these less fortunate, and apparently expendable, citizens are aging. The only choice left to them is to place their charges in an institution, since these still flourish, rather than try to care for them in their homes. Aging parents of aging children are caught in a downward spiral facing constant waiting lists and budget cuts, without help in sight. When will Virginia step up to the plate and take responsibility for its citizens?

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Will Virginia go back to the ’70s and ’80s where we confined people with mental retardation to institutions and nursing homes and forgot about them? In the face of the Olmstead ruling and a Presidential mandate, has the government turned its back again? (Remember that Virginia was one of the first states to use forced sterilization on people with mental retardation) Being ranked one of the last five states in the Union in support of our disabled citizens is bad enough – are we trying for minus 50?

Parents, caregivers and people with mental retardation in other states are resorting to class action suits (and winning) to rail against unfair waiting lists that last for years, the unavailability of Waiver slots, the ongoing support of institutions rather than cheaper community services and the general neglect of citizens with disabilities. If this is what parents must do to prevent the loss of their loved ones to an institution, then this is what we will do.

Thomas Strong

Spotslyvania