For his support of veterans' issues within the Missouri Legislature, the Veterans of Foreign Wars recognized Rep. Dave Griffith as the organization's Legislator of the Year.
Griffith, a Republican from Jefferson City, serves as chairman of the Missouri House of Representatives' Veterans Committee.
During the past session, Griffith sponsored House Bill 390, which established Purple Star school districts. Purple Star districts identify and support military-connected students through services, their websites and transition programs.
He also sponsored House Bill 391, which provided that members of the Missouri National Guard are to be considered as state employees while operating state-owned vehicles for official state business.
The award was a surprise, Griffith said. The lawmaker, who attended his third session this year, went to the local VFW to give the organization an update on what the Legislature did during the session.
"I was very honored to be able to receive (the recognition)," Griffith said.
Coming up in the next session, he intends to refile a bill from last session. House Joint Resolution 32 would exempt any veteran who is 100-percent disabled because of his or her service from paying Missouri property taxes on their homes.
A few more than 14,000 Missouri veterans would qualify for the exemption, Griffith said.
He also wants to focus on somehow slowing veteran suicides.
Just a couple of years ago, the number of veterans dying each day by suicide was at 22. Despite efforts to slow those incidents, the number has increased to 25 per day, he said.
Congressional House Bill 67, begins to address veteran suicide, he points out. It would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to contract with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to report on the deaths of covered veterans (those who had received VA hospital or medical care during the preceding five-year period) who died by suicide during the past five years, regardless of whether information relating to the deaths had been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We need to look at ways that we can mitigate (suicides)," Griffith said.
Lawmakers set up task forces and pay companies to consult with them about prevention, he said.
"We never hear tangible things that we can do," he said.
Missouri Department of Mental Health Veterans Services offers the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1), a confidential resource available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Veterans may also begin a confidential chat with a counsellor at www.veterancrisisline.net.
Veterans or their families in crisis may find Access Crisis Intervention, connecting individuals with behavioral health crisis services. In Cole, Camden, Miller and Osage counties, people can call the Compass Health Crisis Line at 888-237-4567.
Those in Moniteau, Morgan and Boone counties should call the Burrell Central Missouri Crisis Line at 800-395-2132.
In Callaway County, call the Arthur Center Crisis Line, 800-833-2064.
Assistance may include phone contact, referrals to resources in the community, next-day behavioral health appointments or mobile responses (with responders either going to the location of the crisis, or to another secure community location), according to the Missouri Department of Mental Health website.
Griffith said he was pleased the state's medical marijuana program transferred more than $6.8 million to the Missouri Veterans Commission in September.
The commission, which also receives money from Missouri's casinos, has seen revenue fall consistently during the past few years, as casinos have done less and less business.
But, Griffith anticipates that Missourians will legalize recreational marijuana and worries the medical marijuana revenue pumping into the commission will quickly dry up.
If that happens, the commission may be dependent on the state's budget.
Finally, Jefferson City on Monday committed to turning over East Miller Park to the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) to use the property as an expansion of Jefferson City National Cemetery.
Griffith said he'll soon take a trip to Washington, D.C., to present documentation to the VA. The documentation will show the city is prepared to convey the property to the national agency.
Those documents will go a long way toward convincing the feds that the expansion of the cemetery is necessary and possible, he said.