Over the last several years, Iowa has been working on a better way to provide mental health care and disability services for Iowans. We are now in the middle of a statewide reorganization of our mental health system.
During the 2013 session, legislators worked in a bipartisan way to ensure nobody falls through the cracks as the state transitions to a regional mental health system. Unfortunately, Governor Branstad's vetoes last week of crucial mental health funding could jeopardize public safety and the care of vulnerable Iowans.
Effective, accessible mental health services can prevent many people from entering the criminal justice system. State corrections officials have told legislators that Iowa prisons are the largest mental health facilities in the state, with more than half of Iowa's inmates suffering from mental illness or substance abuse disorders.
According to an Iowa Poll in February, 74 percent of Iowans believe that the "lack of available treatment for those with mental illnesses" is a major factor in contributing to gun violence.
Some of the Governor's vetoes that may hurt Iowans struggling with mental illness, their families and public safety include:
Vetoing $13 million for Iowa's mental health safety net (HF 648). Legislators voted to set aside this money to prevent those in need from falling through the cracks during the transition to a regional system. With the Governor's veto, many counties will be forced to make cuts, denying essential services to people who need them.
Vetoing $8.7 million to reduce waiting lists for home and community based services that help kids, seniors and Iowans with disabilities (SF 446). The Governor claims that funding to shorten the waiting list for services is not a successful long-term solution. But as we transition to a regional system-and with the state's budget surplus at an all-time high-we must do what we can to avoid unintended consequences.
Vetoing improvements to Iowa's mental health advocate system (SF 406). After years of work and input from the courts, advocates, public safety officials, counties and the Department of Human Services, we voted to move Iowa's mental health advocate program to the Department of Inspections & Appeals. The Governor's veto means mental health advocates will continue to work at the county level, which has made for an inconsistent and inefficient statewide system.