Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation last week establishing a veterans mental health task force that will seek to prevent suicide among returning U.S. service members.
Over the next two and a half years, the temporary task force will study suicide among New York veterans seeking to identify the causes and best preventative efforts that can be made.
The group will present a preliminary report to the governor and legislature in June 2023 and a final report by July 2024, according to the legislation brought by Assemblyman Mike Cusick (D-Mid-Island) and Senator James Sanders Jr. (D-Queens) in their respective chambers. The bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that we do all that we can to serve our military veterans who have served us,” Cusick said.
“This legislation establishes a veterans mental health and suicide prevention task force which will be tasked with addressing this issue in New York State. Our military veterans deserve access to resources and services that will help them combat these mental health challenges and protect their mental wellbeing.”
Coordinated for geographic representation across the state, the task force will be comprised of nine members with one of the governor’s three appointees having chairperson status.
The Temporary President of the State Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly will appoint two members each. The two minority leaders in each of the chambers will appoint one member each.
All members — who will only be compensated for expenses associated with task force work — will have some sort of mental health expertise, and three will be required to have previously worked with veterans or active military members in a professional capacity.
Earlier this month, Hochul signed another piece of legislation that creates a new system for tracking veterans suicide with the hope of compiling more accurate data on the subject.
That law will direct coroners, coroner’s physicians and medical examiners to file a report to the state Division of Veterans Services (DVS) after any death of a person believed to be veteran in what appears to be a suicide.
In consultation with the Department of Health, DVS will make a report, first due in June 2024, counting the number of veteran suicides, trends over the prior five years, and the comparison of rates by county, statewide and nationally.
“Veterans risk their lives to keep us safe, yet too many — like my uncles who served in Vietnam — aren’t given the welcome home that they and thousands of other veterans deserve,” Hochul said. “This legislation will ensure New York has accurate data to help us care for these heroes, allowing us to work on preventative strategies for early intervention and help all those who served in uniform.”
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