Space For Mental Needs Been Dropping For Decades

Roanoke, VA - Since the mid-1950's space to treat people with mental disorders has fallen from more than 350 beds per 100,000 to just 17 beds.

Beth advocates and mental health professionals say that is largely because of the stigma and perception of mental health issues.

As the Salem VA opens its brand new $9.2 million in-patient mental health facility T is hard for those in charge here not to feel blessed that those in charge of the federal purse strings understand the mental health needs of veterans.

"Particularly in our region in-patient mental health programs are fairly sparse. In the VA that's not the case," said Dr. David Buyck with the Veteran's Administration.

Awareness at the federal level hasn't always been so prevalent.

Mental health professionals here agree it took a build up of veterans from two wars for the need to be fully addressed.

"The President's New Freedom Commission back in 2003 was one of the big catalysts for really looking at access", said Buyck.

More than 60 ears ago, June Poe and her late husband began a career that includes mental health advocacy.

Her description of the Virginia mental health system is not so rosy.

"It is sick as a dog. nobody is paying attention to taking care of its health," said Poe.

That assessment, even with mental health needs getting near half billion dollar boosts over the past two budgets O $7 billion dollars this fiscal year.

It is a number that highlights the problem - as it is just a small portion of what's truly needed to fight a disease that doesn't look so dangerous.

"You don't see it. You see a "Gus," who's a charming young man riding along with his father on his campaign - using his musical talent. And everybody said, 'How could that be?". But it happens," said Poe.

Currently Virginia averages 17.6 beds per 100,000 people which is slightly above the national average of 17.

The minimum average experts say is needed is 50 beds per 100,000 people.