Meredith bill would work to decrease veteran suicide

Published 1:30 pm Monday, January 22, 2024

In 2021, nearly a hundred Kentucky veterans died by suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Kentucky veterans’ suicide rate per 100,000 —35.6 — is much higher than the state’s overall rate — 22.6.

Faced with this problem, Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, is sponsoring a bill that would work to decrease veteran suicide in Kentucky.

HB30 would create the Kentucky Service Members, Veterans and their Families Suicide Prevention Program.

The program’s mission would be to raise awareness of suicide by service members, veterans and their families, as well as reduce barriers that increase suicide risk.

Meredith said he was asked to carry the legislation by a constituent, Vietnam War veteran Michael Stoyonovich.

Stoyonovich is active in the Disabled American Veterans Group, and works as a service officer pairing veterans with services and ensuring they get their benefits locally.

The legislation, House Bill 30, was presented to the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee Tuesday morning.

It passed unanimously, and is now eligible to be heard on the House floor.

What would HB30 do?

The primary goal of the Kentucky Service Members, Veterans and their Families Suicide Prevention Program would be to make it easier to connect impacted populations with the resources they need.

It would involve coordinating all of the different local, state and federal agencies, nonprofits and other groups working to reduce suicide.

“Most of what we’re expecting to be there are resources that already exist,” Meredith said. “There are just agencies that might not be talking to each other all the time.”

Tuesday, Meredith said he hopes that it can reduce the stigma of accessing resources by inserting veterans into the process.

The program would also help local communities to strategically plan to address the issue of veteran suicide.

It would encourage local leadership, faith-based entities, schools, chambers of commerce, public and private providers, grassroots coalitions and other local groups to promote awareness of the 988 Suicide and Crisis hotline, Green Alerts and other resources.

While the program would be housed within the Kentucky Department of Veterans’ Affairs, it would also work with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which provides general suicide prevention resources.

Meredith said that another barrier to help is the lack of an additional layer of resources customized to veterans within the general suicide prevention resources.

Sometimes, veterans may be triggered by different things than the general population due to their unique experiences, he said, and might need something a little bit different to help them.

Rep. Sarah Stalker, D-Louisville, said that this program would end up costing money, if the resources that veterans are connected to run out of space.

Meredith said that he is always open to conversations, but that it might be best to lay this groundwork first.

If passed, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs would have to submit an annual report to the governor and the legislature identifying barriers and detailing efforts the program made throughout the year.

HB30 does not include any funding, but Meredith said that based on what these reports find, there could be interest for funding additional resources in the future.

“This bill is a first step,” Meredith said. “It’s not a final destination.”