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Mental health advocate retires
02/11/2004By FRED CONTRADA Staff writer
Jane E. Moser, whose personal experience with mental illness led to her involvement with the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Western Massachusetts, has retired as president of the organization after serving in that role for a decade.
Moser, 76, said she had been trying to retire for several years but remained in the post at the urging of the alliance board of directors.
Moser and her husband, the Rev. Leroy Moser, who live in Springfield, became active members of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill after their son, David, broke into their Northampton home in 1988 and assaulted them. Although he was diagnosed with a paranoid disorder, David Moser refused to plead insanity or undergo treatment for his disease and was sentenced to 5½ years in jail.
Moser served his sentence, but has refused to speak with his parents. They hadn't seen or heard from him in more than five years when he was arrested for assault in Virginia in 1998. The Mosers learned that David had been living in a tent near Shenandoah National Park.
After their experience with David, the Mosers became vocal advocates of mandated medication in cases where people are deemed incapable of making reasonable decisions about their own mental health. That position has put them at odds with some groups that oppose forced medication.
During her time as president, Jane Moser worked to destigmatize mental illness and advocated for the rights of the mentally ill both locally and nationally. She stepped down Dec. 31 and has been succeeded by Springfield Police Sgt. Donald P.W. Sicard Sr.
The Freedom Center, an organization of mental health consumers, called for Moser's resignation last November after a story in The Republican reported her saying she knew of some people involved with the group who had committed suicide after going off their medication. Moser later acknowledged she was incorrect. She said her remarks had been misconstrued.
"I'm very sorry I was misunderstood or misquoted to begin with," Moser said yesterday. "What can I say that I haven't already said?"
Members of The Freedom Center could not be reached yesterday for comment on Moser's retirement. She maintained, however, that the flap had nothing to do with her decision to step down.
"That's absolutely ridiculous," she said. "It played no part in this whatsoever."
Sicard, 52, became involved with the alliance in 1992 when members organized a training session for Springfield police on how to deal with the mentally ill.
"They opened my eyes," he said.
Sicard, who has close family members with mental illness, was appointed liaison between the department and the mental health community and joined the board of the alliance.
"The more I saw the need for the good work NAMI was doing, the more personally involved I became," he said.
As president, Sicard said he wants to help the public better understand the nature of mental illness, which he describes as a complicated disease that affects people in varying degrees. He agrees with the alliance position that mental illness is often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and can be successfully treated with medication.
"I think the biological piece is important," he said. "I'm not saying it's the only thing."
Sicard has worked in the Springfield Police Department for 26 years. He currently supervises the local sex offender registry and oversees the use of the computer system to obtain criminal information. He lives in Southwick with his wife and two children.
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