A public notification system could be implemented to locate distressed veterans when they go missing under legislation proposed by federal lawmakers and a MOAA member who say the alert could combat suicide by connecting veterans to care.
The bipartisan measure, which was introduced March 21 by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), would establish a federal commission to develop best practices and provide technical assistance to states to implement the Green Alert system. Members of the commission would be appointed by the president.
Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, USA (Ret), a MOAA member, has worked with Hassan to push the legislation.
“I've commanded units where servicemembers have committed suicide. That's one of the most tragic things that can happen inside a military organization,” Bolduc said. “Once they became veterans, if things haven't progressed, we have that potential behavior now transferred to the civilian population.
“We want to set up our veterans to be successful in the civilian world. That's what it really means to me. There's nothing more important than what I can do now to invest in our families to ensure they have the quality of life that they've earned.”
Under the proposal, the commission would receive $500,000 to assemble the system. Commission members would come from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs, and from a veteran service organization.
Through informal research, Bolduc said volunteers from veterans organizations estimate about 10,000 veterans go missing each year.
The Green Alert system would work for missing veterans along the lines of an Amber Alert for missing children, which is active nationwide, and state-run systems designed to find missing seniors, generally known as Silver Alerts.
By establishing a formal alert, a higher priority is placed on finding veterans - a population that is considered at-risk due to several factors, such as homelessness, unemployment and suicide rates, Bolduc said. Two states - Delaware and Wisconsin - already have a Green Alert system in place.
“Ultimately, this is part of the larger problem of reducing the suicide rate of our veterans,” Bolduc said. “We want to understand the problem. At the same time we identify the problem, we need to look at where to focus the help and care the veteran needs. We know we can connect them with quality care. There's so much that can be done to prevent suicide if we can get them into a quality program.”