LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – The House Veterans and Homeland Committee took testimony Tuesday pertaining to a mental health crisis killing veterans.
Rep. Jennifer Conlin (D-Ann Arbor) started a two-part series of hearings to discuss the mental health of veterans, which included how to curb an epidemic of veteran suicides. National Guard Association of Michigan Executive Director Jeff Frisby said there were between 26 to 28 Michigan National Guard members dying per day.
“It’s service in austere conditions. It’s service overseas away from your family and loved ones. It’s witnessing loss of life. Loss of love. Loss of innocence, essentially. Then when you return … it’s returned to unrelatable support,” Dean Ditto, a Marine Corp veteran and volunteer, said.
Frisby said the military veterans’ community makes up less than 7% of the country but make up 25% of all suicides in the United States and that the statistics are for those who have actually died, not attempts.
Both Ditto and Frisby paused frequently during their testimony to remember friends and fellow soldiers who died.
Frisby made a recommendation for funding that would embed mental health experts into the National Guard units that are returning, because they would be able to talk and relate with the soldiers about issues they couldn’t tell officers.
He also pointed to a service dog program that was helping veterans with PTSD, social anxiety, or trouble reintegrating.
“These veterans are people who might not be leaving their garage, might not be leaving their home and they’re getting these dogs and telling some incredible stories about how it changed their life,” Frisby said.
Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) asked what the best place would be to send veterans looking for help and Frisby said 988 was a good number to help.
Ditto said mental health services were essential to helping save lives in the veteran communities and when it was brought up that there could be cuts in the Air National Guard to mental health services, he only held back slightly.
“That’s frickin’ stupid, and if that could be in the record as having said that. If you want to adjust the spelling, I would say that it might carry more weight,” he said.