One House member continues his push to reduce suicide in Missouri, particularly among the state’s veterans.
Representative Dave Griffith (R-Jefferson City) has made veterans’ issues a priority throughout his five years in the House, and now chairs the chamber’s Veterans Committee. Over the summer he also chaired an interim committee on Veterans’ Mental Health and Suicide.
Griffith said one of the most important things that committee learned is that in Missouri the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline is not fully funded.
“The recommendation we had out of the committee was that $27-million be added to the budget to enhance and to continue the 988 program. 998 is one of the most effective tools because just in the first six months that that was used, it was used over 200-thousand times. They’re estimating that in the first year it’s going to be used over 1-million times,” said Griffith.
Griffith is again this year sponsoring legislation to give guidance to the Missouri Veterans Commission about how to use the data it collects on veteran suicides, as well as to require it to report annually to the legislature on that data and what it’s doing to reduce the number of those incidents.
“Where we rank in this in the entire country is not good,” Griffith told the House Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy, saying Missouri is around fourth or fifth among the states with the most veteran suicides.
He added that even though his proposal, which this year is House Bill 132, didn’t pass in 2022, the Commission is already doing much of what it would require.
“Their heart’s in the right place and I can tell you that they get it and they’re dealing with it.”
Griffith said his aim is not just to increase awareness about mental health and suicide in the military and veteran communities but among the population as a whole.
“Two and a half years ago we had a nine year old down in Eugene, Missouri that committed suicide because he was being bullied at school. If it can happen at that age it can happen at any age.”
This week Griffith presented HB 132 to Veterans Committee and presented the report from his interim panel to the Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy, showing that the issue is again his top priority as the 2023 session gets underway. He spent much of both presentations speaking about the 988 hotline because of the importance of listening to those considering suicide, whether it be when they call the hotline or in other settings.
“For someone that has suicide ideation, for them to be able to step forward and say, ‘I need some help,’ that’s one of the hardest things for them to do. When they do they need to have someone that’s going to be able to sit there and to listen to them and hear what they’ve got to say.”
He said one thing discussed at a recent symposium on suicide in the military community that resonated with him is a question that was put to commanders: “Do you really know your personnel?” He said the same could be asked of managers in the private sector.
“In order for us to be able to make a difference they’ve got to be able to know and be able to identify and recognize when there’s something going on in [their subordinates’] lives,” said Griffith. “What my hope was, is we can take that same model and we can bring that into the private sector. We’ve got companies like Scholastic and we’ve got Hitachi, we’ve got Westinghouse, large companies across the State of Missouri and each one of them have got supervisors. If we can train those supervisors and we can get people that have got the aptitude and really the forthrightness to be able to do something like that, it’s something that I hope we can learn from our military background and military friends.”
Griffith’s proposal passed out of the House unanimously last year but didn’t reach Governor Parson. The Veterans Committee will likely vote on it soon.
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