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.”

One Response

  1. Justin Stuckart

    While I applaud everyone involved for the effort they are putting in to help Veterans. I think this may be one of those cases where “something” is not necessarily better than nothing. I can’t believe this idea has made it this far. Many of us Veterans have been arguing against this bill for a long time now. We have expressed our concerns about the impacts this will have on our Veteran community to retired Colonel Smith and his reply has continuously been that if no one from his own district is complaining, then he’s pushing it forward for the entire state.

    I often imagine myself driving over to grab a drink with my buddy. My phone is on silent for whatever reason. I missed a call from one of my peers and they believe that the last time they talked to me, “I seemed stressed out.” So they throw up the red flag saying I always answer my phone and now they’re concerned I might try to kill myself. (Of course, they think that because there’s a special alert set up just for this, it must happen every day) All of a sudden I see a text alert on my phone with my name and description telling me that I’m suicidal and on the loose in the community. Then I see my name and description pop up on the highway sign I’m driving past with the same message. Then my phone starts going crazy with calls from everyone I know trying to talk me down. Meanwhile, I just missed a call and was driving to my buddies house. Now for the rest of my life, anytime I apply for a job or anyone else google’s my name, I have to explain that it was all just a big misunderstanding.

    Our Veterans already have enough stigmas surrounding their status, they don’t need this fake one pushed on them.

    I was in the Army for 11 years and for all 11 years the Army talked about how they are trying to “get rid of the stigma about reaching out for help and talking about any mental health concerns.” This bill, drafted in minutes, now runs the chance of ruining ALL of that. I can tell you with absolute certainty that if a Veteran knows there is a chance they could have their info blasted out to their entire community one day, they WILL NEVER tell anyone about what they might be feeling one day.

    In 2019, I completely understand that everyone wants to say they “Support The Troops” and this absolutely sounds like it’s doing that if you’re not involved in this space. But the harm this will ultimately bring on our Veteran community cannot be ignored.

    I did a short video explaining how this idea is actually already being used against Florida Veterans in court to take away their children and some of the other reasons so many of us are opposed to it. It’s on my facebook page, feel free to share.


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