Proposed legislation could create new mental health resources for veterans, service members focusing on suicide prevention

Posted at 5:40 PM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 19:52:19-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — It could be some promising news for Virginia veterans who battle mental health issues. Proposed legislation is aiming to focus on a bill that would create new suicide prevention to help veterans with mental health.

The legislation, introduced by Del. Anne Ferrell Tata, will focus on creating a suicide prevention coordinator position in Virginia.

News 3 caught up with a Vietnam War veteran who says this is long overdue.

Ron Curtis, a Vietnam veteran, said, "Some veterans feel neglected. They feel like they've been pushed into a corner and say, 'OK, you've been in the military - that's it.'"

It’s partly why the Joint Leadership Council of Veterans Service Organizations (JLC) joined with Del. Tata to introduce legislation that will create a coordinator to focus on mental health screenings for those who have served.

"Dedicated to providing training, prevention, and really some resources for the service members or veterans and for military families," Denice Williams, JLC chair, said.

In 2019, there were 188 veteran suicides in Virginia – that’s according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"PTSD, depression and anxiety is real. It's very real, and there's no age limit to it," said Williams.

Leaders said the legislation comes at a critical time, especially with many people battling with the added stressors of COVID-19. One Vietnam veteran talked to us about his mental battles.

"The least little thing can trigger my PTSD, and my whole attitude can flip," said Curtis.

That led Curtis to turn to alcohol in his past.

"I never did drugs, but I tried to drink my problems away. I've been locked up so many times in the VA Hospital, in the mental ward, they put a sign on my door saying, 'This room belongs to Ron Curtis,'" said Curtis.

Turning his pain into power, Curtis is now an advocate for service members and veterans battling with mental health crises and hopes the bill's passage is a priority this legislative session.

"I'm happy to help another veteran. If I can get one veteran saved without committing suicide, I'll feel a lot better," said Curtis.

The legislation passed the House of Delegates earlier this month, and it was referred to a Senate Committee last week.

Related: Hampton VA helping male veterans, raising awareness of mental health and suicide prevention