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Lawmakers push for veteran mental health office in bipartisan plan

LANSING -- Michigan lawmakers are making a push for a new office focused on supporting veteran mental health and suicide prevention.

The bipartisan bill package would establish a new centralized office for veteran resources, re-establish a peer-to-peer mentorship program and develop a more robust initiative to transition veterans back into civilian life.

“There have been existing programs, and there might be new programs, but this is a way to centralize them and have one person who will know where everything is and sort of what’s happening,” said Rep. Jennifer Conlin, D-Ann Arbor.

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The program would be available for up to a year after leaving service.

“To me, this program is a win, win, win,” said Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Twp. “It’s a win for our servicemembers, it’s a win for the veterans and the mentors who are serving, and it’s a win for our state, because we’re at being able to address the mental health crisis in another way.”

The proposed new office would be required to provide information on the warning signs of PTSD, depression and substance use disorder and provide veterans with connections to traditional mental health resources like therapy.

Multiple veterans support the bill package, including Rep. William Bruck, R-Erie, who says many veterans may try to quickly get through already required mental health screening to see their family sooner.

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“And you’re gonna say no on a lot of things that you probably should be saying yes on,” he said. “This bill will give a little more clout to that after screening that is desperately needed.”

Supporters also emphasized the importance of a buddy to buddy program that would pair servicemembers, both active and returned, together...Rather than with someone else who might not share similar experiences.

“The fact that you can sit there and talk using the same nomenclature, the same metaphors, and find that common ground and then build from that common ground is what constitutes a peer,” said Dean Ditto, a veteran.

Some veteran organizations expressed hesitation on the package, saying there were too many preexisting issues in the veteran support system that needed fixing first. Jay Parish of VETLIFE said that most veterans he interacts with lack trust in the MVAA.

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“I think that trust needs to be reestablished before any new programs are implemented,” he said.

In 2021, there were an average of over 17 veteran suicides per day across the US.

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