Florida Rep. Zika proposes a bill to expand veterans services

In a statement provided to News Talk, Florida State Representative Ardian Zika (R-37) and State Senator Gayle Harrell (R-25) have filed legislation to help combat the scourge of suicide among Florida veterans by expanding services for veterans and their families.

HB 687 and SB 104 will establish the Florida Veterans Care Coordination Program, which will provide veterans and their families dedicated behavioral health care referral services, primarily for mental health and substance abuse. Through the Program, a veteran may call a separate veteran-dedicated support line to receive assistance and support from a fellow veteran who is trained to respond to the calls for assistance.

The bills model the Program after a pilot program established in 2014 by the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA) in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Manatee Counties.

Statement from Representative Zika: “This time of year, when we think of what we are thankful for, no one deserves more thanks than our nation’s veterans. We lose too many veterans a day to suicide. This is a crisis, and I am humbled to be the House sponsor of this good bill, which provides our veterans and their families the help they need in their darkest hours. I look forward to passing this critical legislation during the 2020 Session.”

Statement from Senator Harrell: “As the widow of a Viet Nam war veteran, I am so pleased to sponsor SB104. It will provide a veteran dedicated support line, manned by fellow veterans. It is the next step in making Florida the most veteran friendly state in the nation. Let’s all remember that “Freedom is Not Free” and we would not have all the freedoms we enjoy without the sacrifice of our veterans.”

Statement from Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director Danny Burgess: “To make a meaningful impact, Federal, state and local providers of resources must partner together and coordinate care and delivery of services efficiently. This important legislation continues our state’s efforts to connect veterans and their families with vital behavioral health care referral services. They were there for us and we must be there for them.”

Senate Bill 104 has passed two subcommittees and awaits a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee. House Bill 687 is awaiting a hearing at the Local, Federal, & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee