Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist seek state help tracking veteran suicides
Gus Bilirakis and Charlie Crist talk issues concerning veteran suicides.

Gus Bilirakis Charlie Crist
The Tampa Bay Congressmen represent some 110,000 veterans.

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.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Patti Lynn

    December 23, 2019 at 7:51 am

    In South Florida,we should also look at the age of the veterans dying by suicide. Our younger vets need a different type of intervention and prevention than our older vets. I am afraid that the death by suicide in older veterans is not being properly examined. More attention and funding should be allocated to the problems of isolation and nutrition in senior veterans.

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