Florida Legislators Want to Create a Veteran Suicide Prevention Pilot Program

This week, with the Florida Legislature starting its regular session, state Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, and state Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, showcased their proposal to “establish a pilot program directing the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs to offer each county and city veteran service officer specialized training and certification in preventing veteran suicide.”

If the bill is passed, “veteran service officers (VSOs) participating in the program will receive training to provide emergency crisis counseling for veterans experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis,” noted Diamond’s office.

The legislators weighed in on the bill on Wednesday.

“The statistics tell a devastating story; our heroes need help,” said Burgess who served as the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. “Fortunately, Florida has committed to protecting those who protected us. Our veteran service officers are on the frontlines every day as the first point of contact for veterans in crisis. This pilot program provides additional specialized training for our VSOs with an emphasis on suicide prevention.”

“The epidemic of veteran suicide is both unacceptable and preventable. More than 1.5 million veterans call Florida home, and we owe them a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay,” said Diamond. “We have a responsibility to honor their service with the support they need to thrive. The Veteran Suicide Prevention Pilot Program will strengthen state and local efforts to improve veterans’ access to quality mental health care and end the veteran suicide epidemic.”

Diamond’s office offered some insights on how veteran suicide impacts the Sunshine State.

“Each year more than 500 veterans in Florida take their own lives. Despite a federal report suggesting a decrease in veteran suicides in 2019, the Veteran Crisis Line, a national 24/7 suicide prevention hotline, has reported a significant increase in calls, online chats, and texts since 2020. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay has also reported an increase in crisis and suicide prevention calls.,” Diamond‘s office noted.

Kevin Derby
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