More than 76% of veteran suicides in Missouri are by firearms. New law should prevent this trend.

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Missouri – During a meeting of the Missouri House Veterans Committee, a unanimous decision was made to support efforts to prevent veteran suicides, with a particular focus on the role of firearms.

Debbie Fitzgerald, a counselor from the Missouri Suicide Prevention Network, gave a speech and responded to questions for nearly an hour at the Tuesday session.

A notable conversation occurred between Rep. Hardy Billington, a Republican from Poplar Bluff and the majority whip. They discussed the approach to handling firearms owned by veterans or others in crisis situations that might lead to suicide.

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Billington, who previously served in the Army National Guard and had a family member commit suicide, expressed concern. He believed that if veterans heard stories of guns being taken away when they sought help, it might discourage them from reaching out for support. “Taking away a gun might not be the solution and could potentially do more harm,” he said, sharing his view.

Missouri House Bill 1495 aims to prevent suicides in veterans as the state has above nation average suicides rates

However, Fitzgerald mentioned that in most cases, about 92 to 97 out of 100, people including veterans who contact a crisis center do not have their firearms taken from their homes.

“It’s just like if you had a child and you lock up the Tylenol,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s just asking those in the home, ‘Can we maybe put this in a lock box for a week and you check in with us every day?’ And then if things are better in a week, you can go back to life… We never just remove them. We just ask for safe storage and just during the crisis.”

More than 76% of veteran suicides in Missouri are by firearms

In Missouri, over three-quarters of veteran suicides involve firearms, as reported by the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Paul Kirchoff, the Executive Director of the Missouri Veterans Commission, noted in an earlier session that Missouri’s veteran suicide rate, at 45.2 per 100,000, is higher than the national average of 33.9.

House Bill 1495 aims to tackle this issue by mandating cooperation between the Missouri Veterans Commission and the Department of Mental Health. This collaboration will focus on reviewing and implementing strategies from the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019. This act expanded mental health and suicide prevention services to include a wider range of treatments and evaluations.

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The bill also calls for an annual report. This report will suggest various strategies and methods, including new programs, treatment options, and other forms of support, which the Commission finds necessary to help prevent veteran suicides. These recommendations depend on available funding.

Rep. Dave Griffith, a Republican from Jefferson City and the chair of the Veterans Committee, who also introduced the bill, commended Fitzgerald for her informative presentation.

“The work you’re doing is God’s work,” Griffith said. “You have provided us with more answers to questions that I have had for five years. Today has been a good day for this committee.”

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