Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Virginia GOP and False "Pro-Life" Values

The following is a cross post of my May, 2015, column in VEER Magazine which looks at the dishonesty of the Virginia Republican Party and Christofascists supporters who make a great show of claiming that they are "pro-life" yet continue policies that make it clear that for the most part, once a child is born and leaves the womb, they really don't give a damn about that child as it grows up - especially if it has mental or developmental disabilities.  And that doesn't factor in those dying prematurely due to lack of affordable health care.  Some of the data in the column is most damning.  Here is the column:


In August of last year, we lost my husband's father, a retired Baptist minister, the last of our surviving parents, four months to the day after the date of our marriage in Washington, D.C., where he co-officiated at our wedding.   While one expects to navigate through grieving and issues of settling an estate, selling the deceased parent's home and similar travails - my husband is the executor and trustee of the estate - nothing had prepared us for what would prove to be the biggest challenge: finding community services and housing and appropriate supervision for my husband's adopted special needs brother who was adopted many years ago by my husband's late parents who realistically had no idea what they were getting themselves and now us into.  Now age 43, their adopted son - a fetal alcohol syndrome child - through no fault of his own suffers from intellectual and developmental disabilities and will never be a fully functioning adult.  

As a result, the husband and I have found ourselves being thrust into dealing with the Byzantine bureaucracies of the local Community Services Board, local Department of Social Services and the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services (“DBHDS”) and witnessing the disturbing manner in which Virginia treats those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The lack of accountability and seeming near indifference on the part of some personnel encountered has been both disturbing and maddening.  However, the more we have learned, the more it has become apparent that there is a systemic problem with the manner in which Virginia deals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Indeed, it is much akin the shocking deficiencies in Virginia's inadequate mental health care services that were brought into sharp focus by the tragic wounding of Senator Creigh Deeds and the suicide death of his son.  Pushing paper and playing a shell game to hide the reality that there is nowhere near enough state funding or enough available facilities is not meeting anyone's needs, especially those in desperate need of community based services. 

Depending on the income ranking one chooses, the Commonwealth of Virginia ranks either 5th in the nation in per capita income or 7th in median per capita income.  In short, in relative terms nationwide, Virginia is a wealthy state. But in terms of its spending on the needs of those suffering from intellectual and developmental disabilities, Virginia ranks 49th in the county.  That's right, second to last.  Only Mississippi spends less on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Stated another way, even Alabama and Arkansas - ranked 45th and 49th, respectively - spend more per capita on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities than Virginia spends.  This circumstance is nothing short of a disgrace.  Making the situation even more outrageous - or hypocritical depending upon one's political view - is the fact that Virginia is currently controlled by a General Assembly dominated by the Republican Party.  The GOP elected officials and sycophants incessantly blather about being "pro-life," protecting the unborn, etc., with the result that Republican members of the General Assembly seek to restrict all abortions (which will yield yet more children with disabilities).  

Sadly, the concern of the Republicans and their constituents who demand never ending tax cuts and their far right religious supporters for the unborn seemingly evaporates the moment those unborn children pass from their mothers' wombs.  These "god fearing folk" oppose Medicaid expansion, oppose government programs for the poor and unfortunate, and care nothing if those children suffer from intellectual and developmental disabilities.   Historically, their solution has to been to lock away such individuals in institutions where they lack socialization and optimization of their potential.  Even then, the spaces available came nowhere near meeting the demand for services.  

Just how bad are things in Virginia?  In 2010, the Civil Rights Division of United States Department of Justice "("DOJ") launched an investigation that found that Virginia violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings appropriate to their needs, and failing to provide adequate community services and supports.  The Department of Justice filed suit against Virginia in while anti-abortion warrior Ken Cuccinelli was Attorney General of Virginia.  Ultimately, Virginia entered into a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice upon the advice of Mr. Cuccinelli's office in an effort to reach a settlement without subjecting the Commonwealth to an extremely costly and lengthy court battle with the federal government. (See Civil Action N0O: 3:12cv059-JAG in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division) The settlement agreement resolves DOJ’s investigation of Virginia’s training centers and community programs and the Commonwealth’s compliance with the ADA and Olmstead with respect to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities provided that Virginia complies with the mandated improvements set forth in the settlement agreement.

Since Virginia has proven that it cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, an Independent Reviewer files a report with the Court that evaluates Virginia's compliance with the settlement agreement and the progress or lack thereof being made.  The most recent report was filed in December, 2014, and found that despite progress "Despite these efforts, however, the Commonwealth continues to be significantly behind schedule. There have been repeated delays in complying with certain obligations, including elements critical to an effective community based services system that is truly responsive to individuals with ID/DD."

What does this mean for every day Virginians?  From my conversations with agencies familiar with the situation faced by those waiting for Medicaid waivers that will allow them to receive much needed housing and/or grants to allow them to remain in their own homes or the homes of family caregivers, the situation is grim.  Here are some of the statistics:

According to the most recent data from DBHDS, there are 7,948 people waiting for the Intellectual Disability (“ID”) Waiver (4,851 individuals are on the urgent list and 3,097 are on the non-urgent list) and 1,902 waiting for the Developmental Disability (“DD”) Waiver. Between June 2014 and April 2015, 903 people were added to the ID waiting list, and 447 added to the DD waiting list.  Despite this growing need, only 365 slots were funded during this last general assembly session for this fiscal year (Jul 2015-Jun 2016); this was the minimum required by the DOJ settlement agreement referenced above.

According to 2013 data that was released last month in the State of the States that compares data nationwide:
- --Virginia is ranked 29th in family support spending.
--- Virginia is ranked 50th in family caregivers receiving I/DD state agency support.  There are an estimated 98,828 care giving families of people with I/DD in Virginia; in 2013, only 325 of these families received state agency support (i.e., 0.3%).

As bad as these statistics are, I suspect that they likely mask the true number of individuals in need of services because the existing bureaucracy discourages those in need and/or their families from seeking services.  The husband's experience in dealing with the local community services board and office of social services has been one of bureaucracy at its worst: indifferent on the part of many of the staff and/or non-responsive staff and unrelenting passing the buck.  The more I have learned, the more I believe that their ultimate ploy is to avoid admitting that there simply is no state funding.  People with developmental and intellectual disabilities simply do not matter in Virginia.  It is far past time that our state legislators correct this situation – particularly those who talk disingenuously about supporting “family values” and being pro-life.

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