Veteran suicide prevention bill coasts through Senate committee

American Soldiers and US Flag. US Army
The bills enjoys bipartisan support.

A bill designed to tackle the issue of veteran suicide in Florida sailed through another committee stop Wednesday.

The bill (SB 1712) would require the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs (FDVA) to provide suicide prevention training to veteran service organizations as part of a pilot program.

The training, the bill says, would emphasize crisis counseling tailored to the unique needs of veterans.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services blessed the bill unanimously without questions or debate. Zephyrhills Republican. Sen. Danny Burgess is the bill sponsor. 

Burgess is an Army Reserve member and previously led the FDVA. He described the program as a long-term goal of his tenure.

“We want to incorporate additional training that will help ensure that our (veteran claims examiners) are not just outstanding at their role of helping connect veterans to their earned services, benefits and support,” Burgess said, “but also outstanding in their ability to recognize, identify, facilitate and coordinate care for veterans or family members who may be calling them in the middle of crisis.”

Proponents of the bill contend veteran suicide is at an epidemic level. Despite a 2019 pre-pandemic 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.

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.

Chair Aaron Bean noted that many veterans are leaving the service and relocating to Florida. 

“We want to give veterans every opportunity to recover and heal,” Bean said. “And I know it’s a lifetime of healing.”

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

The proposal will appear next before the Senate Appropriations Committee, its final panel stop.

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond is sponsoring the companion bill (HB 1315).

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.


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