Resource support

Bill would support veterans in crisis

Veterans who are experiencing mental health crises may soon receive additional support under the legislation, following executive action by the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.

House Bill 1181 would provide outreach and services to prevent suicide among veterans, said House Housing, Human Services & Veterans Committee research analyst Serena Dolly.

The legislation creates the Veterans and Military Suicide Prevention Account and a community services grant program focused on suicide prevention.

The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs would provide an online database for military members and veterans of mental health and suicide prevention resources. Dolly said if lawmakers pass HB 1181, the database should be available in early December.

Veterans need support not just in times of crisis, but at all times, said Grant County Veterans Advisory Council member Tom Moncrief. He said he supports moves to provide additional resources to veterans, but insists this should be the starting point for additional support.

“Anything that helps veterans is a good thing,” Moncrief said, “awareness is the first thing needed to address these rates.”

Dolly said the state is participating in the governor’s challenge to address military-related suicides. As part of this challenge, the proposed legislation would report semi-annual data to relevant agencies on the implementation of plans to tackle rising suicide rates.

Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and two of his sons served in the military. From what they witnessed, he said the consequences of a war can affect anyone’s mental well-being. No veteran in crisis is an anomaly, he said.

Lawmakers are expanding and modifying the Safer Homes, Suicide Aware task force if HB 1181 passes to expand previous efforts to address the mental health crisis. The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs is reportedly getting more involved in tackling rising suicide rates.

House Committee on Appropriations staffer Linda Merelle said the estimated cost to the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs was about $630,000 in fiscal year 2023 and $394 thereafter. $000 recurring each year. The legislation also costs the University of Washington about $100,000 a year.

If adopted, a suicide prevention license plate emblem would become available for purchase by vehicle owners to raise awareness and direct revenue toward solutions. The emblem would include the figures of the suicide hotline. The tax impact is about $28,000 per year for the Licensing Department, Merelle said.

Moncrief suggested other ways to increase awareness, including expanding education and organizing community town halls where everyone can access information. He said it would help reach older veterans who don’t use the internet as often as younger generations.

Alfie Alvarado, director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, said HB 1181 is an implementation bill with many elements.

“HB 1181 is a capstone bill,” Alvarado said, “to engage the entire Washington State community in the prevention of suicide for veterans and family members.”

She said the WVA is supportive of efforts to deal with the current crisis, but her department needs funding. Without adequate funding, the WVA cannot implement the legislation, she said.

Lawmakers voted unanimously to withdraw Bill 1181 from the House with a “do not” recommendation during an executive session on Monday. Representatives will hear the bill for debate on the floor of the chamber at a later date.

The Herald contacted the North Central Washington Veterans nonprofit, but the organization declined to comment on the bill.