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Feb. 26, 2024 |  By: Jason Hancock - Missouri Independent

Missouri House unanimously passes bill aimed at reducing veteran suicide


By Jason Hancock - Missouri Independent

A bill requiring the state to expand its efforts to prevent veteran suicide won unanimous approval in the Missouri House this week.

Following an emotional debate that saw lawmakers share personal stories of friends and loved one who took their own lives, the House voted 157-0 on Wednesday in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Republican Dave Griffith of Jefferson City. It would require the Missouri Veterans Commission to collaborate with the state Department of Mental Health to review policies and establish procedures, programs, treatment options and any other necessary assistance to reduce the veteran suicide rate.

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A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report revealed that 6,392 veterans nationwide lost their lives to suicide in 2021, marking an increase of more than 100 lives from the previous year. In Missouri, 185 military veterans died by suicide that year, with the 2023 federal report indicating a veteran suicide rate in Missouri significantly surpassing the national average.

“It does not really matter what the number is. I don’t care about how Missouri ranks — we have too many veterans taking their lives. Just one is too many,” Griffith said.

The legislation also mandates that the veterans commission provide a detailed report to the legislature by next year on its efforts.

The bill unanimously passed the House last March, and it cleared a Senate committee. But it stalled when the Senate became mired in gridlock in the session’s final weeks.

During the committee hearing on the bill last month, Griffith shared with his colleagues that in the past year “I lost a really, really good friend of mine to suicide.” His friend was a veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, and even though he spoke with him shortly before he ended his life “to be honest with you, I had no idea there was something going on with him.”

The bill passed by the House would not a “total solution to the crisis we’re facing right now,” Griffith told his colleagues this week. “But it’s a step in the right direction. If we can prevent one suicide today… we can start turning this into a downward trend.”