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Opinion: Congress passes landmark funding for veteran suicide research

Impeachment hearings overshadowed an important bipartisan victory last year that could help save lives. Congress approved $25 million towards researching veteran suicides by firearm, which I wrote about in The Missouri Times last September. This is driving a majority of the deaths in the veteran suicide epidemic, which has taken a large number of lives here in our own state.

Sadly, Missouri has a veteran suicide rate that is higher than the national average. The main cause behind a majority of those deaths were fatal self-inflicted gun wounds. An unfortunate example of this can be seen not too long ago when Phillip Crews, an honorable Marine Corps veteran, tragically took his own life in St. Louis. He was alone in his car when he shot himself. It was heartbreaking for his family and the veteran community, which has seen a long line of their brothers and sisters taking their own lives with a gun.

Dave Myers II

The latest figures are alarming. They reveal that 71 percent of Missouri veterans who committed suicide in 2017 used a firearm as their method, exceeding slightly the national rate of firearm-related veteran suicides. Nationally, in the past six years, 17 veterans committed suicide daily — and almost 70 percent of those deaths were due to a firearm.

As a veteran, this data is devastating, and I know firsthand that behind every statistic was a patriot who made a sacrifice to serve their country and a grieving family whose lives will never be the same. But the data only highlights the problem, leaving the veteran community without evidence-based ways to help stop veteran suicides by firearm.

In fact, for 20 years, we ceded ground to the veteran suicide epidemic, as we didn’t have the necessary scientific data to address the problem at its source. Policymakers lacked federal data to confront this crisis and were making premature assumptions, pointing to a variety of potential causes without evidence. We desperately spun our wheels with the hope that we could land on a solution that would save lives. But guesswork on this issue simply has not been enough.

Congress’s recent landmark funding for research into the issue of veteran suicides is a big win. This research allows us to learn more about the reasons why firearm-related suicides disproportionately impacts the veteran community and could get us closer to preventing more tragedies like Phillip Crews. It was a crucial step in the right direction, and we need to continue down the path of finding answers.

The $25 million allocated for research is a solid start, but long-term funding is needed to properly research veteran suicides by firearm. I applaud Senator Roy Blunt for standing with veterans in helping to pass the first round of research funds. With his continued support for our veterans and backing from other leaders in Washington, we can continue to move closer to finally addressing one of the worst epidemics facing our country and help save the lives of those who made sacrifices to protect our freedoms at home.