The Phoenix Flyer

FL lawmaker urges U.S. Congress to support veterans’ mental health and fund suicide prevention efforts

By: - December 15, 2020 5:51 pm

A veterans’ ceremony in Monroe County, FL. Credit: Monroe County website

A state lawmaker has filed a “House Memorial” bill, hoping to bring more attention to the mental health crisis of veterans and the prevention of veteran suicides.

Florida House Rep. Matt Willhite, a Democrat who represents part of Palm Beach County, filed HM 71, urging the U.S. Congress to “recognize the current crisis of veteran suicide and to fully fund suicide prevention efforts undertaken by the U. S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”

The bill has been filed for consideration during the 2021 legislative session.

Willhite’s aide told the Phoenix that passing the bill would send a message to the U.S. Congress that the Florida House, as a governmental body, supports veteran suicide prevention efforts.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, mental experts are concerned that veterans may be experiencing more mental health distress than in years past, exacerbating the current difficulties veterans might face, such as economic disparities, unemployment, and homelessness, according to the news release on the legislation.

First Lady Casey DeSantis, in particular, has focused on mental health issues during Gov. Ron DeSantis’ tenure.

Willhite said in a written statement that “we must lead the nation in urging the United States Congress to recognize the current crisis of veteran suicide and to fund fully the suicide prevention efforts taken by the United States Department of Veterans’ affairs.”

Steve Murray, spokesperson at the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, said that the FDVA “looks favorably on this legislation.”

The state of Florida has increased its efforts of supporting veteran mental health in recent years, Murray said, and praised the DeSantis administration for pulling from federal, statewide, and local resources to champion mental health and veteran suicide prevention efforts.

“[HM71 is] another step forward in this ‘all hands on deck’ approach, because everyone has a role to play in veteran suicide prevention,” he said in an interview with the Phoenix.

Murray encourages Florida veterans who are in need of emotional or mental health support to contact the 24-hour Florida Veterans Support Line at 1-844-MyFLVet (693-5838).

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.