‘Loud and clear’: House panel sends veterans’ services bill to final committee
Florida salutes its lawmakers who have served in the military.

The measure would streamline referral services for mental and substance abuse help.

A bill (HB 231) supporting behavioral health services for veterans passed without debate in the Health Care Appropriations subcommittee.

Land O’Lakes Rep. Ardian Zika is sponsoring the bill.

“The legislation sends a loud and clear message that the Florida House of Representatives will continue to serve our veterans in our community,” Zika said.

The bill would authorize the Florida Department Veteran’s Affairs (FDVA) to establish the Florida Veterans’ Care Coordination Program to provide veterans and their families health care referral services, primarily for mental health and substance abuse.

The final vote in support of Zika’s bill was 15-0.

A strong association exists between post traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse disorders among veterans. Statistics show about one in 10 veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have problems with alcohol or other drugs, and more than two in 10 veterans with PTSD also have substance abuse disorders.

Through the program, a veteran may call a veteran-dedicated support line to receive assistance and support from a fellow veteran trained to respond to these types of calls.

“Veterans play a critical role in our state. They protect our nation and they fight overseas in so many different battles, so it’s an important piece of legislation to serve them,” Zika said.

The bill models the program after a pilot program launched in 2014, which expanded the existing Florida 211 Network, an information and referral network, to veterans in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, and Manatee counties. Through the network, veterans receive information on available veterans’ services at the state and federal level, and follow-up care to verify referrals lead to a successful service connection.

The Legislature appropriated $150,000 to the network when it launched in 2014. According to an analysis of the bill, the legislation would have no fiscal impact on the FDVA for fiscal year 2021-2022, but an unknown negative fiscal impact on the FDVA thereafter.

Roy Clark from the Department of Veterans Affairs waved in support of the bill, which now heads to its final stop in the House State Affairs Committee. A companion bill (SB 260) is sitting in its last committee stop, Senate Appropriations.

Florida has the nation’s third-largest veteran population with roughly 1.5 million veterans.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, including war or combat. According to the National Center for PTSD, within the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11% and 20% of veterans who served in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were diagnosed with PTSD in a given year. About 12% of veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War were diagnosed with PTSD in a given year. About 15% of veterans of the Vietnam War were diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s. However, the National Center for PTSD estimates that about 30% of veterans of the Vietnam War have had PTSD in their lifetimes.

Haley Brown

Haley Brown covers state government for FloridaPolitics.com. Previously, Haley covered the West Virginia Legislature and anchored weekend newscasts for WVVA in Bluefield, W.Va. Haley is a Florida native and a graduate of the University of Florida. You can reach her at [email protected]


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