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Four-year effort to stem veteran suicide reaches Governor Parson's desk

      An effort to decrease the incidence of suicide in Missouri especially among veterans, one that has long been a top priority for one House member, is at last on the governor’s desk.

      The legislature approved two bills containing Jefferson City Representative Dave Griffith’s (R) plan, one he has proposed for four years.  If signed by Governor Mike Parson (R), it requires the Missouri Veterans Commission to come up with recommendations on how veteran suicide can be prevented; and to report annually on new recommendations and on the implementation and effectiveness of state efforts. 



      The standalone version of his bill never received a “no” vote at any step of this year’s legislative process.

      In Missouri suicide occurs among the veteran population nearly twice as often as in the rest of the population. Griffith said this effort is all about reducing that rate, ideally to nothing.

An already personal quest becomes more personal     

Griffith, a U.S. Army veteran, has made veterans’ issues his top priority throughout his time in the House.  In dealing with this issue, he has talked to people who have survived suicide and to families of those who have died by suicide.  Then last year, one of his close friends died by suicide. 

      Ever since, he has kept on his Capitol office desk the last letter that friend sent him.   

The functional effect of the legislation

      A chief function of Griffith’s legislation is to make sure that the data that is gathered about veterans’ suicide, of which there is a great deal, is compiled and made available to those concerned with the issue. 

      He wants to ensure that that information is being utilized as effectively as possible to improve efforts including outreach, treatment and even identifying those at risk of suicidal ideation.

      Griffith is pleased to note that the Veterans Commission has already started implementing some of what the bill requires.   

The goal: To help all who need it

      Even though the focus of his bill is on veteran suicide, his concern is for suicide and related mental health issues throughout the population.

      “When I began this journey four years ago … my hope was, is, that this would be a springboard to conversations outside the veteran community, outside the military community, to one that is really in the civilian population as well.”  

      He has talked numerous times in the past four years about tragedies that play out too often. Prominent for him is the story of one child from near his district who died by suicide in recent years.   

      “When you get down to a nine-year-old in Eugene, Missouri, because he’s being bullied in school, we’ve got a crisis on our hands. They’re taking their lives because they feel like that’s the only thing that’s going to end the pain that they’ve got. The more that we can talk about that pain, the more that we can have teachers that are in schools, counselors that are in schools that are with those kids all the time, a teacher that can see change in one of their students from this jovial, happy go lucky kid that comes in that all of a sudden is very reserved and withdrawn and something’s going on, somewhere along the way a conversation needs to happen with that child. Somebody needs to, whether it’s a teacher or a counselor, or if a teacher calls and talks with their parents, I think we all have to own that to a certain extent. 

Perspective born of experience

      Asked whether he wishes a similar focus on mental health had been in place when he was in the military, Griffith thought back to his time in the 8th Special Forces Group as a Green Beret. Many of the missions he participated in during his service in Vietnam were classified, and that limited how much he could talk to anyone about what he experienced. 

      Especially with the Vietnam War, he said, conflicts awaited soldiers when they returned home. 

      Griffith said he has dealt with his pain by compartmentalizing. 

The message this legislation sends

      Aside from the functional effects of his legislation, Griffith said the fact that he proposed it and the fact that it has consistently received unanimous support send a message to veterans. He wants them to know that they are valued.   

      For those who care about veterans and others dealing with mental health, Griffith has heard time and time again from experts that societal stigmas are a large part of what must be overcome. Those struggling are worried about what will happen to them if they seek help.

      Most Missourians likely know someone who is struggling with mental health issues, even if they don’t know it. Griffith hopes that though efforts like this legislation, more people will look into what they can do for themselves or for someone else.   

 

      Griffith’s proposal reached the governor’s desk as a standalone bill in House Bill 1495, and as part of Senate Bill 912. The governor can choose to sign either or both bills into law, veto them, or allow them to become law without taking action.  Griffith anticipates he will sign his proposal into law.

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