AP NEWS

Connecticut considers establishing an alert system for missing veterans

April 3, 2019

Connecticut is exploring the possibility of establishing a system, like those that alert the public when children or older adults go missing, to help locate at-risk missing veterans.

Wisconsin became the first state to establish a so-called Green Alert system after the family of an Air Force Reserve sergeant, who was found dead in 2017 after missing for 18 days, detailed how difficult it was to get law enforcement to search for him.

A high school junior in Connecticut brought the idea to the attention of several state lawmakers last legislative session but it was too late in the process to get anything done. Grace Dowling, testifying in support of Senate Bill 778 during a Feb. 14 public hearing, said when doing research for a project for her civics course last year, she came across the story of the Adams family.

Gwen and Johnnie Adams filed a police report hours after their 45-year-old son, Corey Adams, went missing. They asked police if he could be put on an emergency list but were told no. He apparently didn’t meet the criteria for a critical missing person. Their son, they told police, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The family convened a search party and circulated information about Corey online, to various news outlets and even the Department of Veterans Affairs facility where he received treatment. Corey’s body eventually was found in a lagoon in a park close to the family’s home.

“We know that the suicide rate for veterans is high. If a soldier is missing on the field, his or her unit will send out a search and rescue party. Why can’t we do the same for an at-risk veteran in Connecticut?” Dowling said during the public hearing of the state’s Veterans Affairs Committee.

The committee unanimously advanced the bill, which awaits action in the Senate.

Steve Kennedy, the Connecticut team leader for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said publicly releasing information “singling” out an at-risk vet could have unintended consequences. Vets still feel a stigma about seeking help, despite efforts to “normalize” mental health treatment and care, he said.

A 2016 study from the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 20 veterans take their lives every day. In a 2019 survey by the national IAVA of more than 4,600 of its members, one of the top reasons they said they don’t get mental health care is because the stigma of seeking help is too great.

“It is necessary that the bill strike the proper balance between increasing awareness of a potentially dangerous situation for the veteran and maintaining a certain amount of privacy in order to prevent the unintended worsening of the situation,” Kennedy testified.

Tennessee and Delaware also are looking into establishing Green Alert systems. And a bill introduced in Congress recently would establish a national system for alerting the public when a veteran goes missing.

j.bergman@theday.com