BY MORGAN HOWLAND
(CNS) – The Virginia House of Delegates will consider a bill to create a Green Alert system for at-risk veterans who have gone missing, similar to the national AMBER Alert system.
Del. William Wiley, R-Winchester, proposed the bill — HB 2338 — to create regulations concerning alerts for missing veterans who have a physical or mental health condition that is related to their service.
“[The bill] is a proactive measure to take care of our fellow veterans,” Wiley said. “I served in the military and I’m very passionate about taking care of people that served. This is a way to help out [veterans] who have mental health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and other challenges that they may have incurred from serving.”
According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1.7 million veterans received treatment in VA mental health specialty programs in the 2018 fiscal year.
The bill would require the Department of Justice to provide a form in its integrated crime alert network for law enforcement agencies to communicate reports of missing veterans or members of the armed forces to broadcasters and outdoor advertisers.
The network currently provides state agencies, law enforcement agencies and the public information about criminal activity, crime prevention and missing or at-risk individuals.
Winchester Chief of Police John Piper said he would not oppose the idea of creating a notification system for at-risk veterans. However, he emphasized that increasing the availability of long-term, effective mental health resources would be an important proactive measure to consider.
“I think the bigger challenge to all of us in public safety and other disciplines throughout the state is making sure that there’s appropriate resources to give people the care afterward that they need,” Piper said.
Under the bill’s provisions, a law enforcement agency that received a report of a missing veteran within 72 hours of the reported disappearance can then disseminate the information in a timely manner using the network’s form.
The bill would also direct training for law enforcement officials to identify reports of at-risk individuals and develop criteria for the dissemination of reports when appropriate.
John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, said he supports the measure.
“We hope that it will help veterans or members of the armed services if in fact they become missing and need help from the sheriffs and law enforcement,” Jones said.
Virginia is among roughly a dozen other states to consider bills relating to alerts for missing veterans who have service-related mental or physical health conditions.
Wiley said he learned about existing Green Alert bills from a constituent and fellow veteran in Winchester.
HB 2338 was assigned to the House Public Safety Sub-Committee Wednesday and is scheduled to be considered Thursday.