Last week, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis requesting the state of Florida’s assistance to improve the accuracy of data on veterans mortality and life expectancy.
Crist and Bilirakis asked that the state of Florida establish a policy requiring medical examiners and investigators to indicate whether a victim of suicide is a veteran on their death certificates. In cases where there are missing or incomplete service records, medical examiners and investigators can partner with Veteran Service Organizations to improve accuracy. The letter to DeSantis comes after a joint meeting of Crist’s and Bilirakis’ Veteran Advisory Boards raised concerns that veteran suicide data may not be as accurate as it should be. Crist and Bilirakis represent the more than 110,000 veterans.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Governor DeSantis,
We write to request your help in obtaining a true and accurate count of the annual number of veteran suicides in Florida. As members of Congress from Florida’s 12th and 13th Congressional Districts, we are honored to represent more than 110,000 of the 1,500,000 veterans who call the Sunshine State home. At a joint meeting of our Veterans Advisory Boards, local veteran leaders raised concerns that veterans suicide data may not be as up-to-date or accurate as it could be. We need the most accurate data possible to effectively tackle this epidemic facing our veteran community.
As you know, Congress tasks the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to report annual veterans suicide data, along with general data on mortality and life expectancy. However, because not all veterans use the VA, they also rely on a combination of U.S. Department of Defense service records and state death certificates. Unfortunately, state death certificates do not always tell the full picture. After a death, veteran status is indicated on a form filled out by a funeral home; however, when local medical examiners take over death investigations in cases of suspected suicide, they do not necessarily investigate whether the deceased is a veteran. We are concerned that this dynamic is leading to an undercount of veteran suicides.
As you know, the governor’s office works with the Medical Examiners Commission and District Medical Examiners on best practices and standards. We ask your assistance to improve the accuracy of data on veteran mortality and life expectancy by establishing a policy in which every medical examiner must determine and indicate the deceased’s veteran status on the death certificate. For those with missing or incomplete service records, medical examiners and investigators can partner with Veteran Service Organizations to improve the accuracy of the record.
Through our roles on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, we are committed to fighting for those who fought for our freedom – and are still fighting today. Ensuring the accuracy of the count of veterans who die from suicide is a small but impactful way the state of Florida can help in this fight. Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to working together to help Florida’s veterans.