Winter Springs Republican state Rep. David Smith wants Florida law enforcement and public to treat missing U.S. military veterans in distress due to mental illness the same way as missing children or lost elderly, with statewide alerts.

Smith has introduced a bill in the Florida House of Representatives to create “Camo Alerts” to be broadcast much like Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts when families, friends and law enforcement are concerned that distressed veterans have wandered off in states that could be suicidal or otherwise harmful.

Under Smith’s measure, House Bill 513, introduced late Tuesday, the aim would be to provide help to prevent suicides by “at-risk” veterans. That covers veterans or active-duty members of the U.S. military, National Guard or U.S. reserve forces, regardless of age, who are known to suffer from a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, whose disappearance poses a credible threat to his or her own health and safety, or the health and safety of others.

Smith, a retired U.S. Marine colonel and combat veteran, said it’s a step toward addressing the nation’s terrible epidemic of veterans’ suicides, reported to be as common as 22 per day.

“It’s time to quit talking about the epidemic of veteran suicides around the country or here in Florida, and let’s do something about it. So I think this is a good step in the right direction,” Smith said.

Under the bill, if a law enforcement agency receives a report of a missing military veteran or active service member in its jurisdiction who qualifies as at risk, the agency or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement can broadcast “Camo Alerts” similar to the Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts and activate the statewide alert networks. Smith suggested the scenario of a veteran who leaves a note or expressly tells someone he intends to harm himself, and then goes missing. The alerts would provide much of the same information as those done now for missing persons or senior citizens, including descriptions, and descriptions of cars, with license plates.

Similar bills are being tried elsewhere in the United States, with some early success, he said. His bill has support from the House leadership and a companion bill is in the works in the Florida Senate, he said. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion offered him their support, he said.

“I think it offers the quickest potential impact to reduce veterans’ suicides,” Smith said. “We’re going to get there with treatment, the VA is getting better. But here’s something I can do as a veteran in the Florida Legislature to activate this system across the state of Florida.”

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