ISSUE | MENTAL HEALTH

Saving lives, costs

The excellent article by Erin McCarthy on the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act proposed by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R., Pa.) included claims by opponents that need to be addressed ("Mental health bill pits two rights," Aug. 3). The claims that assisted outpatient treatment - which allows courts to order certain historically violent, seriously mentally ill people into six months of community treatment - would lead to more people being institutionalized involuntarity and turn some away from seeking help are disputed by data showing just the opposite. This treatment actually reduces hospitalization and incarceration in most cases, and by replacing expensive hospitalization and incarceration with more humane outpatient treatment, it saves taxpayers half of the cost of care. The Murphy bill is supported by the public, police, families of the ill, and the ill, and should be supported by all Pennsylvania representatives.

|D.J. Jaffe, executive director, Mental Illness Policy Organization, New York

ISSUE | VETS' CARE

Signs of progress

A recent call to Veterans Affairs for an appointment was answered quickly and very politely, totally unlike past experiences. So I urge my brother veterans not to give up on the VA; things are changing for the good.

|Leonard Kornit, Philadelphia

ISSUE | CIGARETTE TAX

Kids held hostage

Presented with unnecessary obstacles to a cigarette tax for Philadelphia public schools, we repeatedly have been given excuses instead of solutions. In exchange for the right to tax ourselves, we have been asked to support legislation proffered as reform - and told to return in five years to jump through hoops to reauthorize the tax. The efforts of my Republican colleagues to advance money for schools may be well-intentioned, but do not address the current budget gap.

The needs of students should not be held hostage by political infighting. That is why we must return to Harrisburg immediately; the futures of our students are depending on it. I encourage parents and advocates throughout the region to continue the good fight.

|State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker, Philadelphia

ISSUE | PENSIONS

Manufacturing a crisis , perpetuating illusion

Gov. Christie faces not a pension crisis but a budget crisis of his own making ("Christie sets up a study panel," Aug. 2). He vetoed the budget passed this spring which funded pensions under the terms approved by the Legislature and Christie. We were told that pension fix was a triumph that guaranteed pension solvency and saved taxpayers $120 billion. It increased employee contributions, eliminated cost-of-living increases, and raised the retirement age. Christie told how he overcame union opposition to win bipartisan support.

Trouble was, the bill also required the state to make its contractual pension payments - something it had failed to do for almost 20 years. To pay for the pension payment, the Legislature proposed a temporary tax on millionaires.

To be clear, the present so-called crisis began in 1995, when Gov. Christie Whitman failed to fund pensions. That set the trend. Payday after payday, public employees contributed; only the state reneged. Of course, now Christie is preparing to run for president and opposes raising even a temporary tax on millionaires.

|Edward L. Wolfe, Pitman

Stop the blame game, or at least get it right

The pension systems in Pennsylvania have proven cost-effective and economical for taxpayers for a century largely because teachers and other pensioners have always made their contributions. That's why the system survived the Great Depression and nine other recessions. But while pensioners have paid their share, governors have not. It's time to stop blaming teachers, police, and others for this problem.

|George W. Roesser, Hatboro

ISSUE | BORDER CROSSINGS

No matter their origin, they're still children

Mainstream politicians and public figures, including several members of Congress, have been spreading anti-immigrant rhetoric, alleging that the border children are bringing a culture of violence and calling for a quarantine. The words used directly impact our ability to sustain a society that ensures dignity and equality for all. Incendiary language and rhetoric do little to advance the discussion and perpetuate stereotypes that have no place in today's conversation about a humanitarian situation.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of children facing extreme violence. Reasonable people can disagree, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that these are children deserving not only dignity and respect, but also compassion.

|Joshua Cohen, associate regional director, Anti-Defamation League, Philadelphia

Long trail of U.S. policy led to border

Kudos to professor Stephanie McNulty for exposing the ugly reality that American foreign policy in Central America during the Cold War caused chaos, civil war, and genocide in countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, policies that are the root causes of the crisis on our southern border ("U.S. helped create crisis along border," July 31). American economic and political self-interest throughout the Cold War clearly outweighed any concern for either democratic principles or human rights. Now we are reaping the bitter fruit.

|Peter C. McVeigh, Oreland, pmcveigh@comcast.net