DOJ Warns Virginia of ADA Violations

In a letter issued to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division offered a stern warning regarding the state’s treatment of individuals with disabilities. The Department cites issues of compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires individuals with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

In the letter, Thomas Perez, the Department’s assistant attorney general, says Virginia has failed to provide adequate services in line with the ADA, resulting in the needless and prolonged institutionalization of the state’s citizens with disabilities.

“We write to provide you notice of the Commonwealth’s failure to comply with the ADA and of the steps Virginia needs to take to meet its obligations under the law. This letter also serves as formal notice under CRIPA (the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act) of the findings of our investigation, the facts supporting them, and the minimum steps necessary to remedy the deficiencies. The Commonwealth’s implementation of the remedies discussed in this letter will correct the identified deficiencies in its compliance with the ADA, fulfill its commitment to individuals with disabilities, and protect the public fisc.”

The specific “systemic failures” noted by the Department include: 

The Commonwealth’s failture to develop a sufficient quantity of community-based alternatives for individuals currently in CVTC (the Central Virginia Training Center) and other training centers, particularly for individuals with complex needs

The Commonwealth’s failure to use resources already available to expand community-based services and its misalignment of resources that prioritizes investment in institutions rather than in community-based services

A flawed discharge planning process at CVTC and other training centers that fails to meaningfully identify individuals’ needs and the services necessary to meet them and address barriers to discharge

Regarding Virginia’s “unnecessary institutionalization” and the risk imposed on citizens, the Department notes:

The Commonwealth’s failure to develop a sufficient quantity of community services to address the extremely long waiting list for community services, including the 3,000 people designated as “urgent” because their situation places them at serious risk of institutionalization

The Commonwealth’s failure to ensure a sufficient quantity of services, including crisis and respite services, to prevent the admission of individuals in the community to training centers when they experience crises

In addition to civil rights violations, the Department focuses on the unnecessary costs on institutionalization. CVTC is a state-run institution with approximately 400 residents with disabilities. Along with Virginia’s other state-operated institutions, there are 1,100 residents with disabilities. Background into the case reveals the average cost of institutionalizing a person at these locations is $194,000 per year. Alternatively, the cost of services to people in the community averages $76,400. As mentioned in the Department’s letter, “Virginia can serve nearly three people in the community for each person in a training center.”

The Department also came down on Virginia’s community-based services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, calling the state’s measures “incomplete.”

“While we recognize that the state provides integrated supported employment opportunities, our tours raised serious initial concerns about the over-reliance on segregated, sheltered workshops for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the community. Many of the day programs we visited also did not provide individuals with opportunities for meaningful work. These deficiencies place individuals at risk of continued segregation even once they are discharged.”

The discharge of individuals with disabilities from state-run institutions is also under scrutiny. After visits to CVTC, the Department reviewed cases in which individuals had identical scores on the “Protocol for Placement of Clients on the Ready for Discharge List.” The findings revealed the institution’s decisions were often inconsistent.

HH was admitted to CVTC on April 16, 1956, at age 15. She has met the Discharge Ready Criteria since November 19, 2009; however, for reasons that are unclear, she was not placed on the Discharge Ready List. 

II was admitted on February 19, 1985, at age 36. A progress note on January 27, 2010, indicates that the team would agree that, with necessary supports, II would be able to function in a community setting. Two days later, on a separate form, II did not meet the discharge readiness criteria.

JJ was admitted to CVTC on August 13, 1962, at age 8. On March 16, 2010, she was listed as meeting the Discharge Ready Criteria, and the guardian agreed to consider community placement; however, she was note placed on the Discharge Ready List.

The Department says that, unless the state can reach a resolution regarding these concerns, the Attorney General may file a lawsuit pursuant to the ADA “to correct deficiencies” 49 days after appropriate officials have been notified. You can read the complete letter from the U.S. Department of Justice here.