Tech panel will look at mental-health care failures

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RICHMOND (AP) — The review panel studying the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech will consider whether Virginia”s mental-health system failed after killer Seung-hui Cho ignored orders to undergo outpatient treatment in 2005.

The panel is set to meet today at George Mason University in Fairfax. It will be its third public meeting since Cho killed 27 fellow students and five faculty members before shooting himself on the Blacksburg campus.

James W. Stewart III, the state inspector general for mental health, plans to address the panel and summarize Cho”s encounters with the state mental-health system. The panel will not hear from the local mental-health agency that has acknowledged failing to monitor the outpatient treatment that Cho was ordered to receive.

Mr. Stewart may provide panel members with an understanding of how Cho was able to avoid scrutiny from law-enforcement and mental-health officials.

Mr. Stewart said he will not discuss confidential details but will provide “a look at this critical incident and the systemic implications.”

Panel Chairman W. Gerald Massengill said Mr. Stewart will deliver his summary in public, but the panel will meet with legal advisers behind closed doors to discuss how it might obtain Cho”s counseling files despite restrictive federal privacy laws.

The law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP will provide pro bono advice to the panel.

“I anticipate being able to get the basics,” Mr. Massengill, a former state police superintendent, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“It”s going to be a very productive and healthy day.”

Panel members also will conduct private interviews with representatives of the local mental-health agency soon, said Jim Kudla, a spokesman for the panel.

Cho was involuntarily sent to Carilion St. Albans Behavioral Health Center near Radford for an overnight stay and a mental evaluation in late 2005 after a female student complained that he had bothered her with unwanted computer messages.

A special justice then found him to be a danger to himself — but not to others — and ordered him to receive outpatient treatment.

The New River Valley Community Services Board is required by law to set up treatment plans for mentally ill patients who are being released into the community for outpatient care, as Cho was ordered to do by a special justice, said Les Saltzberg, the agency”s director.

However, Mr. Saltzberg said, his agency was never aware that Cho was in outpatient care.

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