Dr. Jack Barber

Interim Commissioner


1220 Bank Street

Richmond, VA  23230


Dear Dr. Barber,

I am writing you in regards to the proposed budget cuts to the Mental Health Block Grant issued to Virginia through the state’s application to SAMHSA. The President’s proposed budget would slash this grant and subsequently, the DBHDS budget for recovery programming by nearly 30%. The money is currently distributed amongst mental health recovery services in Community Service Boards, non-profits such as VOCAL, NAMI, and MHAV, and peer-run drop in centers throughout the state.

We know through research done in other states that re-hospitalization rates drop significantly. According to the DHHS report, An Assessment of Innovative Models of Peer Support Services in Behavioral Health to Reduce Preventable Acute Hospitalization and Readmissions, clients who worked with Peer Bridgers at the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services saw an overall decrease in behavioral health costs of 47.1%

Peer Recovery Specialist services are an evidence based practice and emerging profession in Virginia with a 72 hour curriculum of study and an additional 500 hours of practice to meet criteria and recognition and certification through the Board of Counseling; it is now a Medicaid billable service. The peer recovery community would like to see this momentum continue and build. It is not uncommon for those who once received services to give back by joining the staff and offering the unique understanding that comes from having lived experience.

Peer-run drop in centers provide low-barrier access to mental health assistance. There are no appointments needed, no forms to fill out, and no lengthy evaluation. Members are encouraged to engage at their own pace, whether that means connection through unstructured social time, intentional peer support, 12-step groups, or groups in goal-setting and wellness tools. Mental health peers adopt these skills to manage many aspects of life, from coping with challenges in recovery to searching for employment. Families can find support here as well, and these services are provided to the consumer at no cost.

I don’t think you could name a mental health service that does so much with so little, nor is so grossly underfunded. We know where people in need appear when have nowhere else to go; they wind up in hospitals, on the streets, and in the prisons. Peer-run drop in centers offer fellowship, social skills, security, and wellness. VOCAL is here to assist these centers every step of the way. VOCAL’s membership is 2,000 strong and we work with our partners, MHAV and NAMI, to train and support the Peer Recovery Specialist workforce.

The cuts to the Mental Health Block Grant will only lead to more costly services provided by the state, yet the state has the means to assist people daily to help ward off crisis and its costly implications. In the aforementioned DHHS case study, peer services were employed by Optum’s Pierce County Regional Support Network and introducing peer services enabled them to achieve an estimated $21,600,000 savings in excess service utilization.

You will find testimonies from across the state regarding the impact peer services have on the lives of Virginia’s peer constituents, as well as the DHHS report, An Assessment of Innovative Models of Peer Support Services in Behavioral Health to Reduce Preventable Acute Hospitalization and Readmissions, enclosed with this letter.

We implore you to not only sustain but increase funding for peer support and recovery-based programming in Virginia. Thank you for your time and consideration of these comments in proceeding with the DBHDS budget for recovery based services for peers across the state.




Deidre Johnson


Deidre Johnson

Executive Director


Related Post