Richmond, Virginia – Every year the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia honors a Virginia state legislator who displays exemplary leadership, advocacy, and support of the issues that affect people with mental illness and their families.
We are thrilled to award this year’s honor to The Honorable Emmett Hanger who serves in the Virginia Senate.
Senator Hanger represents the Shenandoah region of Virginia and includes areas covering Augusta County, Culpeper County, Greene County, Madison County, Rockingham County, City of Staunton, and Waynesboro City.
Senator Hanger is most deserving of this year’s Outstanding Legislator Award. As the chair and of the Health & Human Resources Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Hanger has been instrumental in giving mental health advocates a voice into public policy and budgetary issues, and in creating better understanding of the need to have strong mental health services in Virginia for adults and children.
Specifically, Senator Hanger has been a driving force behind much-needed funding for children’s mental health crisis services. He understands that providing mental health services to children and youth is good public policy for families and communities. For two legislative sessions in a row, new funding was allocated for children’s mental health crisis services, and Senator Hanger was a leading advocate of this initiative.
Senator Hanger has also been highly supportive of funding for jail diversion strategies and services. The Health & Human Resources subcommittee, under his chairmanship, has taken a strong stand on decriminalizing mental illness, which has led to more than $1 million in new funding for jail diversion programs—a critical budget decision, given that in 2012 alone about twenty-four percent of people in Virginia’s jails had a mental illness.
Lastly, Senator Hanger championed reform and expansion of Medicaid, a critical source of mental health care coverage for adults who are indigent and have a mental illness. This highly politicized issue needed a strong leader to bridge the gap between those who wanted to reform and expand Medicaid as a means to cover thousands of uninsured Virginians – many with untreated mental illness and substance use disorder – and those who were skeptical or opposed to such a measure. Senator Hanger’s calm, fact-based, reasonable approach paved the way for the possibility of Medicaid reform and expansion in Virginia. Although there is still work to be done on this goal, a pathway now exists which is extremely important given that nearly 80,000 adults with mental illness who are currently uninsured could be eligible for mental health services, thus ultimately saving the Commonwealth tax dollars and improving health conditions.
Senator Hanger’s consistent support for mental health and the support he has given to families and individuals affected by mental illness is a credit to him. He demonstrates his compassion and understanding of the complex issues, and has helped to create much-needed awareness of mental illness.
NAMI Virginia is the Virginia state office of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness). NAMI Virginia was created in 1985 to provide support, education, and advocacy for individuals and families affected by mental illness in Virginia. Our mission is to promote recovery and improve the quality of life of Virginians with serious mental illness through support, education, and advocacy. NAMI Virginia’s local affiliates play an active role providing support, education, and advocacy at the community level.