WASHINGTON (AP) — R. Creigh Deeds, the Virginia state senator whose mentally ill adult son attacked him before killing himself, called mental health reform he helped push through the state's General Assembly in the wake of the tragedy "incremental change."
"The real work lies ahead," Deeds told a National Press Club audience Monday.
Last November, Deeds' 24-year-old son, Gus Deeds, stabbed his father multiple times at their rural homestead in Bath County and then shot himself. A few hours earlier, the younger Deeds had been released from an emergency custody order after the local community services board said it was unable to locate a bed in the area within the six hours allotted by law.
During this year's legislative session, Deeds, who was the Virginia Democratic nominee during the 2009 gubernatorial campaign, helped push through several changes to the state's current mental health system. Most notably, the General Assembly approved legislation that extends the time allotted for finding a bed for those under an emergency custody order to 12 hours. If no private beds can be found after eight hours, a state hospital will now be required to admit.
Deeds said he hopes that a legislative study of the mental health care delivery system can lead to progress that can be a model for other states.
In an emotional speech, Deeds called his son his "hero," and went into detail about Gus Deeds' accomplished life before mental illness set in — and his troubled life after. One reason he decided to speak out about mental illness, he said, was "I wanted to make sure that my son was remembered more for his living than for his dying."
Deeds described a bright, inquisitive boy who excelled in school, played musical instruments from the piano to the mandolin, wrote songs and performed throughout the area, played soccer, and mastered Spanish.
"He was handsome and witty," Deeds said. "He had it all going for him."
Deeds said he never feared his son nor saw any indication of violence — even after Gus start suffering from mental illness around age 20.
"Neither his mother nor I wanted to accept the fact that our brilliant, beautiful precious son was sick," Deeds said.
He also said that before he dealt with mental illness on a personal level, the issue wasn't at the top of his agenda as a legislator.
"I cannot tell you that reform was really on my mind before all this occurred," Deeds said.
Last week, a report by the state Office of the Inspector General found no evidence that a mental health official tried to contact two facilities that had room to admit Gus Deeds. Earlier, a state investigator with the office, G. Douglas Bevelacqua, resigned over the investigation into the Deeds case, claiming supervisors had interfered with his work and the report has been subject to revisions to tone down his findings. Inspector General Michael F.A. Morehart has said there was no undue interference.
"The inspector general's a retired FBI guy. I kind of have faith in the law enforcement community," Deeds said, adding he was "OK with the report."
When asked if he blamed any people or organizations for possible failures in his son's case, Deeds replied, "I think that what happened was a system failure. There were people at fault, there were organizations at fault." He said that was representative of what happens elsewhere. "That doesn't relieve the individuals who are in positions to do something from any responsibility for their actions."
Follow Fred Frommer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ffrommer