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Cuccinelli says grant money will help officers help others

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RICHMOND—Stafford County is getting some additional state help to train law enforcement officers in how to deal with people in mental health crises.

Stafford was one of a number of localities presented with checks from the attorney general’s office Wednesday.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is using $4.2 million from a state settlement with Abbott Pharmaceuticals for crisis intervention training for local law enforcement.

Crisis intervention training, or CIT, programs are meant to help law enforcement find better ways to deal with people with mental illnesses, and help those people get access to care rather than a jail cell.

According to Cuccinelli, 25 percent of the people in jails statewide have a diagnosed mental health issue, and 12 percent have serious mental illnesses.

“The need for CIT is critical,” Cuccinelli said at a press conference to hand out the money on Wednesday. “Jail is no place for the mentally ill.”

Stafford County will receive $41,879. Sheriff Charles Jett said the money will help pay for overtime for deputies receiving CIT training, as well as for some equipment.

Jett said Stafford and the entire Rappahannock region is ahead of the curve when it comes to CIT training, having started a program several years ago. His sheriff’s office has deputies trained in crisis intervention on all squads, and there’s a center in downtown Fredericksburg where people in mental health crises can be taken, rather than to jail.

Improving CIT training is just one proposal from Cuccinelli as the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and it’s on the list of proposed health care improvements for Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe as well.

Cuccinelli said Wednesday that he wants to go further to overhaul the state’s mental health system, which he said is “weak.”

He didn’t delve deeply into specifics but said if he is elected next month, programs for mental health and for at-home services through Medicaid will both see big changes.

“I intend to move tens of millions of dollars over in the Medicaid budget,” Cuccinelli told reporters.

He said he was referring to “waiver” payments through Medicaid that go to services that aren’t directly related to health care. He’d shift money from those sorts of programs to mental health, something he said the state can do without federal approval.

He’d need General Assembly approval, but said he thinks “the case can be made for this.”

Cuccinelli said the task force Virginia formed after the Newtown school shooting “really teed up some of this,” demonstrating a need for more money for mental health services.

Cuccinelli said he also would try to crack down on businesses that provide in-home health services. Many are legitimate companies, but some that he referred to as “pop-up” or “fly-by-night” providers can be a source of Medicaid fraud, he said.

“It’s the fly-by-night operations where we find very high rates of fraud,” Cuccinelli said.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028