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Jim Reinhart: Mental health care services for veterans and their families worthy of bipartisan support

We have sadly read the statistics.

There are more than 22 million veterans living in the United States, over 1.5 million in the State of Florida alone, of which just under 400,000 are Gulf War and post 9/11 veterans.

Last year, the Pew Foundation surveyed veterans about readjusting to civilian life and the results should get everyone’s attention.

First, veterans of the post 9/11 conflicts are more likely to have been deployed for multiple combat tours than veterans of previous conflicts — more than 75% of post 9/11 veterans were redeployed. Moreover, because our military is an all-volunteer outfit, the return home is different from before.

Rather than a community embracing the troops returning home, these veterans are often just silently returning from combat.

This is why more than 47% of post 9/11 veterans are describing their return to civilian life difficult, compared to 22% for veterans of previous conflicts. And some 35% of our post 9/11 veterans have sought some kind of mental health counseling since their return to civilian life.

We have sadly read the statistics. Between 10-20% of all veterans of the Gulf War and post 9/11 conflicts suffer from PTSD, and 22 veterans a day take their own life. Let’s examine what is happening here in the state of Florida.

Between 40,000 and 80,000 veterans suffer from PTSD on a daily basis, and given Florida’s high veteran population, on average, at least one veteran a day in our State chooses to end their own life.

Realistically, we must work toward two ideals to solve this crisis. First, we must guarantee that real economic opportunities exist for returning veterans, and second, we have to ensure veterans have easy access to quality health care — and particularly mental health care.

On the first point, as a veteran myself, I am proud of the role my company plays in employing veterans and veteran-owned contractors to help Florida families make improvements to their homes, and I will continue to advocate my employees be proactive in creating job opportunities and business partnerships for those Americans returning from serving their country.

Secondarily, we must build upon the successful pilot program in the Bay area. State Rep. Ardian Zika should be commended for identifying this crisis early on and leading the charge to provide for veterans and their families in their darkest hours. I applaud him and state Sen. Gayle Harrell of  Stuart who have proposed creating a single point of contact within the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs to not only help veterans navigate the health care system, but also to ensure there is both coordination as well as a continuum of care for veterans who are receiving mental health care.

For many of my military colleagues during my time in service, ongoing treatment is an integral part of the process of readjusting to full-time civilian life and I have seen firsthand just how devastating the simple process of trying to navigate the health care system is for those who are already struggling with the transition.

Sen. Harrell (SB 104) and Rep. Zika’s (HB 687) proposal is an important step toward our government doing a better job of fulfilling our sacred promise to those who stood for us when our nation called.

I hope the Florida Legislature will adopt this legislation and other states will follow suit.

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Jim Reinhart, chief executive officer and president of Ygrene Energy Fund, has over 30 years of financial services and high-tech experience. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, he completed his master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Maryland. Reinhart then went on to serve as a naval officer on a nuclear-powered submarine. Upon completing his service, he attended Harvard Business School.

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