U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Charlie Crist want Florida’s help battling veteran suicides.
The Clearwater Republican and Tampa Democrat sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking that Florida medical examiners start tracking veteran status for suicide victims.
“When local medical examiners take over death investigations in cases of suspected suicides, they do not necessarily investigate whether the deceased is a veteran,” the letter reads. “We are concerned that this dynamic is leading to an undercount of veteran suicides.”
Bikirakis, a member of the House VA Committee, has prioritized addressing veteran suicides.
Government estimates show more veterans have died by suicide than in combat during that past decade.
Tracking data from the federal government shows the number of deaths by suicide for veterans has dropped from 22 per day four years ago to a still-alarming 17 per day now, according to The Military Times. Suicide rates among veterans leapt 50 percent between 2007 and 2017.
Yet, Bikirakis fears Congress still doesn’t know the full scope of the problem.
“Improving the accuracy of this data is a critical component of understanding how we can best tackle the epidemic of Veteran suicide,” he said. “I look forward to partnering with state and local leaders to implement this simple change which can help inform prevention strategies.”
Right now, the VA relies on learning of veteran status from funeral homes and VA hospitals. But since available data shows most veterans who die by suicide don’t take advantage of many of the services available through the VA, that likely creates an incomplete picture.
Bilirakis would like Florida to require veteran status to be indicated on state-issued death certificates. In cases where the information is not readily available, he encouraged cooperation between medical examiners and Veteran Services Organizations to ensure accuracy.
Crist and Bilirakis represent a combined 110,000 veterans living in Florida’s 12th and 13th Congressional Districts. An estimated 1.5 million veterans live in Florida.