House panel advances veteran suicide prevention pilot program

'It's common sense legislation.'

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee advanced a bill Monday that would establish a pilot program in Florida to address veteran suicide.

The bill (HB 1315) tasks the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) with providing suicide prevention training to veteran service organizations. The training, the bill says, would emphasize crisis counseling tailored to the unique needs of veterans.

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond is the bill sponsor. The committee advanced the bill unanimously. On average, more than 500 veterans commit suicide each year in Florida.

“Our veterans are struggling with a series of mental health challenges and are plagued by a suicide rate that is significantly higher than our non-veteran population,” Diamond told members.

Veteran suicide is an ongoing national problem. Despite a 2019 federal report suggesting veterans are committing suicide less, the Veteran Crisis Line — a 24/7 suicide prevention service — is reporting a dramatic increase in calls amid the pandemic.

The nonprofit has logged a 7% increase in calls, a 40% increase in online chats and a 98% increase in texts since 2020. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, meanwhile, also has reported an increase.

“It’s a ‘train the trainer’ program to get out into the community on suicide awareness so we can drive down these veterans suicides in Florida,” said Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith, a Marine veteran. “Most people that I speak to can’t believe this isn’t already the law.”

The pilot program — which seeks a one-time $500,000 lump sum — is scheduled to sunset June 2026, unless the department seeks an extension.

The department also must send an annual report to the Senate President and House Speaker providing updates and recommendations.

“It’s commonsense legislation,” Smith added alongside Diamond. “It’s low dollar, high impact.”

Republican Sen. Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills, an Army reservist and former DVA Director, is the companion bill sponsor (SB 1712).

Diamond’s proposal will appear next before the State Affairs Committee, its final panel stop.

If signed into law, the bill would take effect July 1.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.

One comment

  • Joe

    February 15, 2022 at 6:58 am

    David smith is only in it for the money. Medical facilities want the government contracts. As a vet I should be able make my own health care decisions. Stop trying to punish vets because you don’t like them being vocal about government intrusion. Unless the vet is eating crayons and playing with poop let them live their life.

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