U.S. Rep. Dale Strong (R-Monrovia) introduced the bi-partisan H.R. 8140, “Supporting Every at-Risk Veteran In Critical Emergencies (SERVICE) Act,” on Monday.

The bill would establish a pilot program allowing local law enforcement agencies to use the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Office of community-oriented policing services (COPS) grants to establish dedicated “veteran response teams” (VRT) within departments to respond to emergency calls involving veterans in crisis. 

A VRT is a team of law enforcement officers who also have a background in military service. Team members would be available 24/7 to respond to instances of a veteran in crisis. This may include mental health or substance abuse situations. Following the initial response, members of the team would assist in connecting the individual with community and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) resources. 

Strong said, “Supporting our veterans after they return home is crucial. This legislation will ensure that law enforcement agencies around the country are better equipped to assist veterans suffering from issues such as mental health crises and connect them with appropriate community or VA services."

"We owe our servicemembers a debt that cannot be repaid, and it is my honor to introduce this legislation to work towards providing our veterans with the best treatment possible," he added.

According to the statement, there were 6,392 veteran suicides in 2021, according to the most recent VA data. Most veterans who committed suicide were not receiving any form of care at the VA.  

VA studies suggest that strides can be made toward prevention with greater community-based intervention, coalition-building, and increasing awareness of and access to mental health services, among other things. 

This is not new to Alabama. All major VA hospitals, such as the Birmingham, Tuskegee, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery VA Police, currently provide VRTs for at least on-campus incidents. In 2023, Birmingham VA Police also hosted training for local departments at the Helena Police Department.

Currently, according to the Birmingham VA, if a department does not have a VRT and needs to request one, the Birmingham VA police dispatch is called, and a VA Police VRT must be dispatched. Which in some cases could take a significant amount of time. This bill recognizes that approximately 25% of law enforcement officers have a background in military service and, with the proper training, could provide that service in mere minutes.

Madison County Deputy Brent Patterson said, “The Madison County Sheriff's Office deeply values and acknowledges any initiatives aimed at redirecting federal funds towards the local level to aid the law enforcement agencies and veterans residing in Madison County. In particular, the Sheriff's Office takes great pride in its five specialized Crisis Intervention Team deputies who have undergone rigorous training under the guidance of mental health providers, family advocates, and mental health consumer groups."

"The Crisis Intervention Team is well-equipped to handle and manage situations involving individuals with mental health conditions, ensuring a safe and secure environment for all members of the community," he added. "The Sheriff's Office is committed to serving and protecting the residents of Madison County through its various programs and services.”

The SERVICE Act has been endorsed by the American Legion, Hope for the Warriors and Vietnam Veterans of America.  

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email Bradley.cox@1819news.com or on Twitter @BradleyCoxAL.

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