By Jason Delgado
April 7, 2022
UPDATE: Gov. DeSantis signed this bill into law yesterday, 4-06-2022.
On average, more than 500 veterans commit suicide each year in Florida.
A bill designed to tackle the issue of veteran suicide in Florida landed Tuesday on Gov. Ron DeSanits’ desk.
If signed into law, the bill (SB 1712) would require the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs (FDVA) to provide suicide prevention training as part of a pilot program to veteran service organizations.
Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess is the bill sponsor. He previously led the FDVA and is a Captain in the Army Reserve. In committee, Burgess described the bill as a long-time goal of his tenure at FDVA.
“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. On average, more than 500 veterans commit suicide each year in Florida.
St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond is the companion bill sponsor.
“Our veterans are struggling with a series of mental health challenges and are plagued by a suicide rate that is significantly higher than our nonveteran population,” Diamond told members at a committee stop.
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.
Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith, a Marine veteran, advocated for the bill throughout the 2022 Legislative Session.
“It’s common-sense legislation,” Smith said. “It’s low dollar, high impact.”
If signed into law, the bill would take effect July 1.