New law seeks to protect missing veterans

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Korean War Veterans salute as a member of an honor guard presents the American flag at the Korean War memorial at Battery Park in New York, Friday, July 27, 2018. Korean War veterans have something extra to celebrate as they mark the 65th anniversary of the armistice that ended combat. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — If a veteran goes missing, a new law set to take effect in 2019 would allow law enforcement to consider them a ‘high risk’ missing person.

Supporters of the idea say it will help protect combat veterans who suffer  from post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. Officials often use the ‘high risk’ description to alert the public when a missing person could pose a threat to themselves or others.

The measure won unanimous support in both chambers of the state legislature. Governor Rauner signed it into law last Friday with a January 2019 start date. 

For some members of the General Assembly, this plan was personal. 

“I have had multiple friends whose fathers were combat veterans who have had issues with going missing. One ended in suicide,” State Senator Sam McCann (R-Plainview) said in a text message. “That loss of life could have very possibly been prevented if this law were in existence at the time.”

McCann, who is vacating his Senate seat to run for governor as a Conservative Party candidate, says the state of Illinois could still do more to improve veterans care.

“My wife’s father is a combat veteran of Vietnam,” McCann said. “I have several close friends who are combat veterans of the global war on terror. HB4212 is a common-sense bill that will most certainly provide another level of security that our heroes and their families deserve and need in the never-ending mission to care for those who have been there when it mattered most.”

State Senator Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) pointed to a 2013 study on veteran suicide from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It found 22 veterans committed suicide each day on average. Cullerton sits on the Illinois Veterans Suicide Taskforce. While those national numbers have improved slightly in recent years, he says Illinois could do more to work with the federal government in this area.

“Veterans need to know they have people behind them and this law takes a step toward accomplishing that,” Cullerton said. “I urge any veteran struggling with depression and suicide to take advantage of free state and federal resources. No one expects you to tackle these internal struggles alone. There is help out there.”

Representative Avery Bourne (R-Raymond) was a co-sponsor in the House.

Bourne said, “In an attempt to reduce the suicide rate among veterans, our legislation recognizes this public health issue and adds veterans and active duty members suffering a physical or mental health condition to the Missing Persons Identification Act. Men and women in uniform make great sacrifices for our county in our time of need. With this legislation, our state can reach out and help them in their time of need.”

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