From The Tribune staff reports
MONTGOMERY — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced a statewide suicide prevention initiative for service members, veterans and their families.
“A continuing stigma with mental illness is a tragic reality for veterans, with approximately 17 veterans in the U.S. dying by suicide per day,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
Alabama’s veteran suicide rate is even higher than the national average.
“Once someone has served our great nation, we owe it to these great men and women to help them enter civilian life,” Governor Ivey said. “I can think of no better way to say, ‘thank you for your service’ than ensuring these heroes and their families have access to mental health resources when in need.”
Alabama’s Challenge is an aligned effort between the legislative Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide and the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among SMVF, which share a significant overlap in goals and team membership. The efforts were aligned in March 2021 through HJR 28, which also extended the Alabama Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide created by HJR 151 through the last legislative day of the 2022 Regular Session.
HJR 151, which established the legislative Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide, was proposed by Rep. Neil Rafferty and passed in May 2019. Rep. Rafferty, a Marine veteran, saw a need to investigate the causes of and prevention of suicides among veterans after a friend and fellow Marine veteran died by suicide.
“I am encouraged by the momentum of this effort here in Alabama to confront the disparate impact of mental health challenges that many in the veteran community face, even years after they last wore the uniform,” said Rep. Rafferty. “As a Marine veteran who has been personally affected by the devastation following a fellow veteran taking their own life, I understand the importance and immediacy of addressing this issue head-on.”
In early 2020, Alabama was invited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to participate in the Governor’s Challenge. The well-established program has three specific focus areas:
- Identification and screening of SMVF who might be at risk
- Promote connectedness and improve care transitions
- Lethal means safety and safety planning