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President’s Virginia Tech Report: A Disappointment

Statement of Michael J. Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director

June 13, 2007

Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services today released the "Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy."

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has issued the following response from NAMI executive director Mike Fitzpatrick:

"The President’s task force report is a disappointment. It repeats much of what we have known for years. It talks about encouraging people to get help when they need it—when the real problem is that help often is not available.

We don’t need any more commissions or task forces. We know what to do. What we need is strong political leadership—and money to modernize our mental healthcare system.   Last year, NAMI issued a landmark report that graded each state’s mental healthcare system, reflecting the President’s 2003 New Freedom Commission Report on Mental Health. The national average was D.

The Virginia Tech tragedy was everyone’s worst nightmare—for the families of the slain students and professors, and for individuals and families who live with mental illness everyday. But there are also other kinds of nightmares.

The same week as Virginia Tech, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it was beginning an investigation of the Georgia state hospital system—in which 115 deaths have occurred over five years, an average of 23 a year, based on neglect, abuse, or substandard care.

After Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy observed that there is a violence that is slower but just as deadly and destructive as a gunshot or bomb. It is the violence of institutions, indifference, inaction, and slow decay.

That is the kind of violence that too long has marked our mental healthcare system. Failures inside a fragmented system.   Failures of will by governors and legislatures. Everyday, we confront the violence of a mental healthcare system that gets a D as the national average.  In the end, it comes down to leadership and money, and most of all, doing what’s right."

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