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Virginia lawmaker says son's suicide led to mental health reform

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds speaks at a rally at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, October 27, 2009. REUTERS/J
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds speaks at a rally at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, October 27, 2009. REUTERS/J

By Lacey Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A prominent Virginia state politician whose mentally ill son attacked him before committing suicide said on Monday that healthcare reforms passed because of the incident would prevent other tragedies.

Democratic state Senator and former gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds said his son's death in November 2013 had forced him to confront the shortcomings of a state system he and other lawmakers had created.

"I know we've prevented future tragedies," Deeds, scars from the attack still visible on his face, told an audience at the National Press Club.

Deeds' 24-year-old son, Austin "Gus" Deeds, attacked his father with a knife on November 19 at their home in Bath County, Virginia. Only 13 hours before the attack, Gus Deeds had been released from state custody after a mental health evaluation.

Authorities responding to Deeds' home after the incident found his son mortally wounded by a self-inflicted gunshot.

State mental health authorities had released Gus Deeds the day before when a six-hour emergency custody order expired.

At the time of the incident, authorities at the Rockbridge County Community Services Board said attempts to hospitalize the younger Deeds had failed because no psychiatric beds were available in the region.

"This is an issue not just in Virginia, but all over the country," said Deeds.

The incident drew national attention and Deeds has appeared on "60 Minutes" and "CBS This Morning" to discuss the trouble he had getting treatment for his son before the attack.

Healthcare legislation introduced by Deeds was passed in Virginia this month. The reforms lengthen emergency custody orders to eight hours to give clinicians more opportunity to treat individuals in a mental health crisis.

State hospitals have an additional four hours to provide a bed if one cannot be found at a private hospital.

Other changes include a real-time hospital bed registry and the creation of a commission that will conduct a four-year study of Virginia's mental healthcare delivery system.

Deeds said the results of the study should pave the way for more healthcare reforms in 2016 and 2018.

A report by Virginia's Office of the Inspector General last week said that investigators could not verify a claim that a mental health official tried to contact two facilities that had room to admit the younger Deeds before he attacked the senator.

Deeds ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2009.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Eric Walsh)

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