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Mental health groups fear Md. will slash funding

Wednesday - 1/18/2012, 11:11am  ET

Darci Marchese, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - It's budget-slashing time and among the most fearful of budget cuts are groups that look after the mentally ill.

"After so many years of budget cuts, we're all in a very fearful mode," says Katherine Slye-Griffin, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montgomery County.

While official numbers aren't out, it appears millions may be slashed from the already delicate mental health care system in Maryland this legislative session.

In Virginia, there isn't any significant cuts planned for mental health care.

Griffin says mental health care in Montgomery County can't bare a single cut.

"We're down to the bone as far as cuts go," she says.

"There's no excess to trim anywhere and the services that are being lost because of these cuts are so significant."

Griffin says cuts will deeply impact people who are in great need of services.

"People in our communities are going without the therapy they need, they're not getting the housing supervision that they need and they're not getting the housing that they need," she says.

Griffin explains that the lack of long-term housing is always a serious problem for the mentally ill. It is the equivalent of health care, she says.

Budget cuts also would the impact mentally ill people who live independently. They could lose rental subsidies, energy assistance and other help.

Plus, cuts could result in job losses for therapists, which would impact the people they counsel.

Griffin points out that the mentally ill are the first to get caught in the criminal justice system. She says the lack of treatment could result in more misdemeanor crimes, homelessness and joblessness.

She says mental illness gets a lot of attention during tragedies, such as the Tucson or Virginia Tech shootings, but the memories and attention to mental health care quickly fades.

"It's incredibly frustrating because it highlights for a quick second the extreme needs (for mental health care) and then we forget about it," she says. "Those people who commit the violent crimes are just a small indicator of what's really happening."

In Virginia, there are no planned cuts to mental health, In fact, there's an increase in funding.

According to Gov. Bob McDonnell's office, the fiscal year 2012 budget has "significant new funding for mental health and intellectual disability services in Virginia."

Virginia governor's proposed 2013 budget also continues that increased funding.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Removed.)