DOJ settlement will force Virginia to revamp disability services

The U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Virginia reached a comprehensive settlement Thursday requiring the state to enter a 10-year plan to transform its system for people with disabilities.

The graphic is a map of Virginia and parts of the surrounding states
News from Virginia

Virginia will close of four of its five large-scale institutions for people with disabilities,  which each hold between 120 and 400 individuals. To ensure these individuals move safely into more integrated settings, as well as to expand opportunities for people at risk of unnecessary institutionalization, the state will enhance its case management services and create 4,200 more slots in its Medicaid-funded Home and Community Based Waivers program. It will also provide family supports for another 1,000 families.

“As affirmed by the Supreme Court over a decade ago, people with disabilities should be given the same opportunities to participate in community life as those without disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “This agreement will enable people in Virginia who have developmental disabilities to live successfully in their homes and communities.”

The Department of Justice first began investigating the Central Virginia Training Center, the state’s largest institution, in April 2008, eventually expanding its investigation to the entire state in August 2010. Six months later, the department sent a letter to the state, warning that it was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide services ensuring people with disabilities can live in integrated settings.

After months of discussion, the parties filed both the DOJ’s complaint against the state and the settlement, which will be overseen by a court appointed compliance officer, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Virginia on Thursday.

The average person in Virginia’s institutions lives on average anywhere between 21 and 42 years, depending on the facility. The state spends $215,000 per year on average to keep individuals in institutional settings, as opposed to $75,000 in community-based settings.

The settlement also requires the state to expand its crisis service programs to include a 24/7 hotline and mobile crisis teams. The state will also expand its housing and rental assistance programs and work to find integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities, as opposed to work in sheltered workshops, which are often criticized for providing few opportunities to individuals to transfer into competitive employment.

“People with disabilities in Virginia have long been denied the services they deserve,” said Colleen Miller, the executive director of the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy, in a news release. “This settlement agreement, while not perfect, goes a long way to correcting that historic wrong.”

The Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.