Garcia, Ortiz, Polis

From left, Senate President Leroy Garcia, Rep. David Ortiz and Gov. Jared Polis, who teamed up for a pilot program aimed at curbing veteran suicides.

The timing is sad but notable for Senate President Leroy Garcia.

Brown University published a report this week that indicated four times as many veterans since 9/11 have died by suicide than in combat.

You can read that research paper by clicking here.

Wednesday morning, Gov. Jared Polis signed one of the bills that has been most important to the Democrat from Pueblo in his legislative career: Senate Bill 129, a pilot program to look for solutions.

Garcia is a Marine veteran who collected the bodies of the fallen on the battlefield, before returning home to work in emergency services, before his political career.

He sponsored the bill with freshman Rep. David Ortiz, Democrat from Centennial, and a former Army helicopter pilot who survived critical injuries from a mission in Afghanistan in 2012.

"Colorado’s rate of veteran suicide is higher than the national average,” Garcia said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “As a Marine Corps and Iraq war veteran and a lawmaker, those numbers are hard to hear. Veterans and their families have made immeasurable sacrifices to keep us safe. This law puts Colorado on a path to ensuring that veterans who are struggling have the support they need and deserve.”

The five-year pilot program is aimed at providing "no-cost, stigma-free, confidential, and effective behavioral health treatment" around suicidal ideation for up to 700 veterans and their families, according to the bill. It provides $1.6 million in the fiscal year that starts next week for the Colorado Department of Human Services, with another $2.9 million next year.

The Brown University reported found that in the past 20 years, 30,177 active duty personnel and veterans have died by suicide, while 7,057 were killed in service.

"These high suicide rates are caused by multiple factors, some inherent to fighting in a war and others unique to America’s 'war on terror' framework," researchers stated. "Partially, they are due to risks common to fighting any war: high exposure to trauma, stress, military culture and training, continued access to guns, and the difficulty of reintegrating into civilian life."

Ortiz said veterans was one of his top priorities in the legislature.

“Today’s bill signing demonstrates the incredible progress we made this year, helping veterans find good jobs, preventing veteran suicides, and providing a lifeline for rural and homeless vets going through tough times," he stated. "We have a world-premier, all-volunteer fighting force, and to keep it that way we need to be proactive about ensuring veterans can go on to thrive after their service.”

Ortiz also cosponsored House Bill 1065 that allows private employers to give a preference to a qualified veteran or the spouse of a veteran, and Senate Bill 32 establishing a mobile veterans support unit to reach veterans in rural areas and homeless veterans.

“Colorado is home to more than 400,000 veterans, and this year we worked hard to ensure Colorado remains a great place for veterans to live,” House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, said in a statement. “Watching these four bills be signed today, I feel extremely proud of the legislative results we were able to deliver for veterans this session.

Garnett co-sponsored House Bill 1257 with Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, to rename Lincoln Park and Liberty Park in the Capitol complex to Lincoln Veterans' Memorial Park to honor veterans.

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