RICHMOND, Va. — The complexion of a $2 billion, 10-year settlement between the state of Virginia and the U.S. Department of Justice involving the closing of state training centers for people with disabilities could be significantly altered by a decision to allow families opposing the settlement to intervene.

U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. entered an order Wednesday that will allow into the case families who oppose removal of their loved ones from state training centers to community care facilities.

The families argued in legal briefs this year that the state is not equipped to handle community-based care of their family members and that to force them from state training centers where some clients have lived for decades amounts to a violation of their civil rights.

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“This means a lot to all the parents and guardians but especially to those in their 70s, like me and my wife,” said Wriley Wood, whose daughter Peggy, 51, is the lead plaintiff among opposing families and has been receiving care at Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg, Va. for decades.

The proposed settlement, which was reached in January and must be approved by Gibney, would close three of four state training centers and downsize the fourth.

Some $2 billion would be pumped into community care and waiver slots that serve as the gateway for funding care to individuals. About 1,100 people reside in the Virginia centers, located in Lynchburg, Petersburg, Fairfax and Chesapeake.

Gibney concluded that the families “have a significant, protectable interest in receiving the appropriate care of their choice and protecting their rights” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The settlement is designed to gradually remove hundreds of patients from unnecessary institutional care, but the families approved by Gibney argue that a separate class of people would be harmed by removal because community-based care would impose on their loved ones a more costly and potentially harmful way of life.

Wood and other plaintiffs, many of them in Northern Virginia, liken the state-federal plan to an eviction.

However, state and national organizations that advocate for those with disabilities have fiercely defended the settlement that promises tens of millions of dollars in new money and a gradual shift away from institutional care and the state’s poor record of funding help.

“We remain very optimistic that the judge will approve the excellent and fair settlement and we look forward to presenting the views of our families and members to the court,” said Jamie Liban, executive director of The Arc of Virginia.

Gibney set out a 16-day schedule for filing arguments in response to the families’ motion to dismiss the federal-state agreement.

© 2012 the Richmond Times-Dispatch
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