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Questions cuts in mental programs

by The Western News
| November 22, 2011 9:51 AM

Letter to the Editor,

A coalition consisting of Montana law enforcement, mental health providers and advocates are pleading with Congressman Dennis Rehberg to reconsider proposed cuts that would strike at the heart of Montana’s mental health and substance abuse infrastructure.

The Montana Mental Health Caucus, a loose-knit group consisting of Disability Rights Montana, the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the Montana Council of Community Mental Health Centers, NAMI Montana, the Montana County Attorneys Association, and Mental Health of America in Montana have been very proactive in supporting legislation to promote public-private partnerships to build crisis services in Montana communities. 

The groups have worked together on a variety of public policy and funding issues aimed at improving the state’s mental-health system.  Montana public officials have listened and responded positively.  Congressman Rehberg is being asked to do the same.

Current president for the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, Blue Corneliusen, explained that sheriffs are acutely aware of the implications when mentally ill Montanans become residents of county jails when other options are not available. 

In a letter to Congressman Rehberg he pointed out that communities count on their federal partners to be one leg of the stool.

While others states increasingly are targeted in legal challenges because they have not provided adequate mental health services, the members of the Montana caucus have strived to be proactive.  Their letters to Congressman Rehberg emphasize that identified cuts will jeopardize the efforts that have been made by so many to move Montana forward in a responsible manner.

The implications of these proposed cuts are great for our state.  Montanans with mental illnesses will have reduced access to community crisis services.  Increased admissions to Montana State Hospital will put an additional burden on Montana taxpayers. 

Finally, increased contact with law enforcement places our law enforcement agencies in the unenviable position of providing mental health services in the least desirable venue.

— Kathy McGowan