Families no longer have to pay for highway memorials for fallen first responders and service people

      Memorials for fallen veterans, police officers, and firefighters, and for those missing in action, will no longer be paid for by the families of those individuals, under legislation that became law this year.

LCPL Jared Schmitz (Photo courtesy of Mark Schmitz)

      It’s called the “FA Paul Akers, Junior, and LCPL Jared Schmitz Memorial Sign Funding Act,” and it stemmed from the efforts to memorialize those two men, both of whom died while serving their country.  When legislators learned that their families were billed for the signs honoring them, they proposed the language that would have those costs paid for by the Department of Transportation.

      “Most people in Missouri didn’t like the idea, just like I didn’t … that once we honor a fallen hero, we didn’t realize the paper trail behind the scenes was to send these invoices to their family members,” said Representative Tricia Byrnes (R-Wentzville)

FA Paul Akers, Junior

      Representative Don Mayhew (R-Crocker) said what was happening was “a shock to, in fact, everyone who’s ever gotten a memorial sign done.  A lot of times what they have to do is they go around and they get donations from the VFW and other places in order to pay for the sign because, many of them, they don’t have $3,000 laying around for a memorial sign for the highway.”

      Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz, of St. Charles, was among 13 U.S. Service Members and more than 100 others killed in a suicide bombing at a Kabul airport during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.  His family wanted to honor him with signs to designate an overpass on I-70 in Wentzville as a memorial bridge bearing his name. 

      His father, Mark Schmitz, said the family got a bill for those signs.

      “That’s when I started pushing back.  How the hell can you charge any grieving parent or person who lost a loved one who died in the line of duty, whether it be police or fire or paramedic or military?  I said that just doesn’t seem right.  So I reached out to some of the [parents of the other 12 U.S. service members who died in that same bombing] and three of them in California never had to pay for their signs either, so I’m like, this is kind of disgusting.”

      Schmitz, who lives in Byrnes’ district, said he supported her legislation not so much due to his family’s experience (donations covered their $3,200 cost in a matter of hours after an online fundraising effort was launched). 

Representative Tricia Byrnes (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “I was thinking about the wife of a fallen police officer or the widow of a soldier or marine that’s killed, and maybe [the family doesn’t] embrace trying to honor them so quickly.  Maybe they take three, four, five years to finally get past that grieving point where they want to do something like that, and then the state’s going to bill them for $3,200.  They would have a very difficult time trying to raise that kind of money.  Certainly I think it’s really gross or disgusting for them to have to pay the bill themselves,” said Schmitz.

      Schmitz said the passage of this legislation is, for him, in honor of his son.

      “There will be no first responder who is killed in the line of duty whose family or loved one will have to pay that bill again moving forward, which is a total victory.  I think that’s the right thing to do.  It’s the least that they can do when somebody has literally given everything they have for this country, in the case of the military; or for their town, if they’re a police officer, fireman, paramedic.”

      Mayhew’s experience with the issue began with an effort to honor Fireman Apprentice Paul Akers, Junior, who was killed in the January, 1969 explosion and fire on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, CVAN-65, off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.  Akers was also from Crocker. 

      “I was nine years old at the time and they had the funeral in the high school, and I remember it like it was yesterday.  The entire gym was full, completely full, and that might not sound like much but pretty much everybody in town was at that funeral and the memories are very vivid,” said Mayhew.  “I’ve known the family my entire life and so I’m very proud to not only be a part of getting the [memorial sign with his name] put up but also a part of making sure that families in the future don’t have to go through this ever again.”

      Mayhew is just glad the proposal finally became law.

      “I also want to apologize to those families who have lost loved ones in service to our nation and our state who had to pay for these signs over the years.  I hope that they can take solace in the fact that no other family will have to suffer from the cost of these signs ever again,” said Mayhew.  “These Gold Star families have already given all in service to the country.  The least we could do is pay for a memorial sign.”

Representative Don Mayhew (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Byrnes said the legislation was the subject of very little opposition, and for good reason.

      “There was a moment on the House floor where somebody said that MODOT’s budget is already pretty tight enough.  Do we really want to force MODOT, and I was like, yes because I’m really not going to support selling signs to family members so that we can charge them for grass cutting along the highway.”

      The family of LCPL Schmitz isn’t finished honoring him.  His father said they are now working to raise money for a series of 100-acre recreational retreat camps, one in each state, for veterans and their families to use for free.  Each will have 13 available houses, one for each of the U.S. service people killed in the attack in which his son died. 

      “[We want to get a] lot of bonding going on, that’s kind of our mission here, is to get a bunch of veterans together that served in different times, different conflicts, different branches, just get them comingling again and have them be around guys like themselves,” said Schmitz. 

      Advocates who deal with veteran suicide and mental health issues say one of the best outlets for veterans, especially those who have experienced combat, is other veterans. 

      Byrnes and Mayhew sponsored identical bills.  When Byrnes’ version, House Bill 882, came to a House vote, it passed 153-0.  The language later became law as part of Senate Bills 139 and 127.

House votes to increase state efforts against veteran suicide

      The House has voted to improve the state’s efforts to prevent suicide among its veteran population. 

Representative Dave Griffith (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Representatives voted 156-0 for House Bill 132, which directs the Missouri Veterans Commission to work with the Department of Mental Health to come up with recommendations on how Missouri can prevent veteran suicide.  It would require the Commission to report annually, beginning June 30, 2024, on new recommendations and on the implementation and effectiveness of the state’s efforts.

      The bill is sponsored by Jefferson City Republican Dave Griffith, a U.S. Army Veteran who served with the 8th Special Forces Group as a Green Beret.  He has spent much of his career in the House dealing with veterans’ issues, and with ways to stem suicide not only among current and former service members but in the population in general.

“Many of you know, I’m very passionate about this.  I can tell you of friends that I’ve lost in the last month – veterans that have committed suicide.  A young man that was 27 years old, that grew up across the street from me took his own life.  This has got to stop,” said Griffith.

      Griffith speaks often of the social media campaign #22, and his personal goal of decreasing or eliminating what that number represents. 

      “#22 stands for the number of veterans that commit suicide every day … If we can start to look at programs and we can look at procedures that can be done and best practices that are being done by not only our state but throughout the entire United States, we can start making a difference in this, but we need to do more than just talk.  We need to do research.  We need to look at non-traditional methods of treating [post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury] and veteran suicide.”

Representative Ashley Bland Manlove (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Though he and others in the legislature and state government have been talking about these issues for years and developing related programs, Griffith said Missouri has a long way to go.  Representative Ashley Bland Manlove (D-Kansas City), who has served in the Missouri National Guard, agreed. 

“For a lot of people these conversations about mental health are brand new … so a lot of people are still like, ‘When I was in the military we just had to grunt through it, and talking about your emotions made you weak,’ but what we have found out is that that’s not true.”

“I think the biggest population that we should be talking about is the one percent of American population that raises their right hand for this country,” continued Bland Manlove.  “The best way that we can thank our veterans for their dedication and work to this country is by taking care of them.”

Rogersville Republican Darin Chappell (R) has a great deal of experience with the issues faced by military members and their families, as he is a veteran of the Navy and the Army Reserves and has many service members in his family. 

      “I have long believed, and have advocated for, the philosophy:  ‘If we send them we have to mend them, and we have to bring them all the way home.’  It’s time for us to do all that we can to make sure that occurs.”

      Before casting their votes for the measure, legislators reflected about their own personal experiences.  St. Clair Republican Brad Banderman solemnly told his colleagues, “About two years ago my little sister laid down on the grave of my older brother that shot himself in 1990 and killed herself.  Anything that we can do as a legislature, as a body, as individuals, to help prevent the suicide of our veterans, I’m in full support of.”

Representative Brad Banderman (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Missouri as of 2020 had the 14th highest suicide rate in the U.S., with about 1,125 people having died by suicide in that year.  The rate among veterans is approximately 1.5 higher than in the rest of the population, and experts are telling legislators they fear that suicide rates are going to increase. 

      “I think we need to do better and I think this is a good start,” said Representative Robert Sauls (D-Independence)

      The same bill passed out of the House last year but did not come to a final vote in the Senate. 

      Anyone in need of help for themselves or someone else for a mental health, substance abuse, or suicide crisis is encouraged to call 988.

Bills would have MODOT, not families, cover cost for highway memorial signs

      The families of fallen veterans, police officers, and firefighters, and of those missing in action, would no longer have to foot the bill for highway or bridge memorial signs honoring those loved ones under a bill approved by a House committee.

Representative Tricia Byrnes (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Legislation sponsored by Representatives Tricia Byrnes (R-Wentzville) and Don Mayhew (R-Crocker) would require the Department of Transportation to cover those costs. 

“Keep in mind, folks, these are the folks who gave all to represent our country … if we’re going to have honorary signs, the very least that we can do is pay for it,” said Mayhew when presenting the legislation to the House Committee on Transportation Accountability, which he chairs. 

Byrnes joined Mayhew in proposing this change in response to the effort to honor Marine Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz, a Wentzville native, who was one of 13 U.S. military members who died in a 2021 bombing at an airport in Kabul, in Afghanistan.  She learned that when Corporal Schmitz’s family wanted to have a section of highway named for him they received an invoice from the Department of Transportation for more than $3,000.

“If we have people that are dying for our country and dying for our communities the least that we can do is not hand them an invoice, because in my opinion that’s just selling signs to people who sacrificed their life for us,” said Byrnes.

Corporal Schmitz’ father, Mark, told the committee, “Being a Gold Star father, everyone knows, you die twice.  The last thing I want is for my son to be forgotten.  To be on I-70, to be visible to so many people every day would be tremendous.  So, we went through the state … I think it was $3,200 to be exact … they sent us an invoice that once we raised this money they’ll go ahead and proceed with it.  You can imagine, after the sacrifice that he made, to then have to figure out how you’re going to pay for it.  I think it was ludicrous and shameful.”

Schmitz said he talked to the families of the other 12 personnel who died at the same time as his son.  None of them had to pay the cost of having a memorial sign placed in honor of their loved on, on a highway in their respective states.

“I don’t want to see any fallen [police officer’s, fireman’s, or other veteran’s] family have to go through that.  Luckily we have tremendous support from our community … we were able to raise the money in about 24-hours, thank God, but I don’t think people [should] have to go through that,” Schmitz told the Committee.

      The Department of Transportation did not oppose the legislation but offered information on how the system currently operates.  Chief Safety and Operations Manager Becky Allmeroth said the Department has to consider other signage. 

Representative Don Mayhew (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “This new signage would not aid drivers in navigating the highways.  Placing new signs necessary for safe travel would also become more difficult with fewer locations available.  This is especially true in our St. Louis and our Kansas City regions of the state right now.  It’s a very awkward situation when you’re designing a new interchange and you have to make decisions on those signs that actually guide motorists up through an exit versus a memorial signs that’s already in place and where we can fit all those signs to make sure that we’re keeping our motorists safe.”

      Allmeroth told legislators, “We have 830 memorial designations across the state highway system.  The number is expected, with this bill, to increase exponentially if the current participation fee is removed.”

      Most committee members voiced support for making the change in policy. 

      “Personally I don’t care about the costs.  I just think we need to do this.  I don’t think the family should pay,” said Republican Bob Bromley (Carl Junction)“If we’re making the Slim Pickens Highway or Mark Twain Highway at Hannibal I understand having a fee.  If we’re doing it for fallen soldiers I think [having a fee is] ridiculous.”

      The committee voted unanimously in favor of the bills, House Bill 882 (Byrnes) and 518 (Mayhew), advancing them to another committee for consideration.

House efforts target suicide especially among veterans

      One House member continues his push to reduce suicide in Missouri, particularly among the state’s veterans. 

Representative Dave Griffith (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Representative Dave Griffith (R-Jefferson City) has made veterans’ issues a priority throughout his five years in the House, and now chairs the chamber’s Veterans Committee.  Over the summer he also chaired an interim committee on Veterans’ Mental Health and Suicide. 

      Griffith said one of the most important things that committee learned is that in Missouri the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline is not fully funded.   

      “The recommendation we had out of the committee was that $27-million be added to the budget to enhance and to continue the 988 program.  988 is one of the most effective tools because just in the first six months that that was used, it was used over 200-thousand times.  They’re estimating that in the first year it’s going to be used over 1-million times,” said Griffith. 

      Griffith is again this year sponsoring legislation to give guidance to the Missouri Veterans Commission about how to use the data it collects on veteran suicides, as well as to require it to report annually to the legislature on that data and what it’s doing to reduce the number of those incidents. 

“Where we rank in this in the entire country is not good,” Griffith told the House Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy, saying Missouri is around fourth or fifth among the states with the most veteran suicides. 

He added that even though his proposal, which this year is House Bill 132, didn’t pass in 2022, the Commission is already doing much of what it would require.

“Their heart’s in the right place and I can tell you that they get it and they’re dealing with it.”

      Griffith said his aim is not just to increase awareness about mental health and suicide in the military and veteran communities but among the population as a whole. 

“Two and a half years ago we had a nine year old down in Eugene, Missouri that committed suicide because he was being bullied at school.  If it can happen at that age it can happen at any age.”

      This week Griffith presented HB 132 to Veterans Committee and presented the report from his interim panel to the Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy, showing that the issue is again his top priority as the 2023 session gets underway.  He spent much of both presentations speaking about the 988 hotline because of the importance of listening to those considering suicide, whether it be when they call the hotline or in other settings. 

“For someone that has suicide ideation, for them to be able to step forward and say, ‘I need some help,’ that’s one of the hardest things for them to do.  When they do they need to have someone that’s going to be able to sit there and to listen to them and hear what they’ve got to say.”

      He said one thing discussed at a recent symposium on suicide in the military community that resonated with him is a question that was put to commanders:  “Do you really know your personnel?”  He said the same could be asked of managers in the private sector.   

      “In order for us to be able to make a difference they’ve got to be able to know and be able to identify and recognize when there’s something going on in [their subordinates’] lives,” said Griffith.  “What my hope was, is we can take that same model and we can bring that into the private sector.  We’ve got companies like Scholastic and we’ve got Hitachi, we’ve got Westinghouse, large companies across the State of Missouri and each one of them have got supervisors.  If we can train those supervisors and we can get people that have got the aptitude and really the forthrightness to be able to do something like that, it’s something that I hope we can learn from our military background and military friends.”

      Griffith’s proposal passed out of the House unanimously last year but didn’t reach Governor Parson.  The Veterans Committee will likely vote on it soon.

Committee advances honor for atomic veterans

      U.S. veterans who were part of the military’s nuclear testing programs or the follow-up to the use of nuclear weapons would be honored by a bill moving through the House.

Representative Bob Bromley (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Representative Bob Bromley (R-Carl Junction) says as many as 400,000 American military personnel were exposed in one way or another to nuclear radiation, but for decades they couldn’t talk about it.

      “This was a very classified operation, and the people involved … had to swear an oath of secrecy.  They would’ve been charged with treason if they would’ve even mentioned this because it was so secretive,” Bromley told the House Veterans Committee.

      Consequently many of these veterans were not compensated for treatments for diseases they developed likely as a result of those nuclear operations.

      “A lot of them had developed illnesses.  I think 23 different types of cancers have been associated with this,” said Bromley. 

      He said it’s perhaps difficult to believe now what these military members were expected to do.

      “They would go in as early as four hours after a nuclear test to go in and observe the result of that bomb and to actually write up reports and just doing research on this.  At that point in time, if you go back through the historical records, a lot of these military personnel, they didn’t wear goggles, they didn’t wear gloves, they didn’t wear respirators,” said Bromley. 

      House Bill 1652 would designate part of Highway 171 the “Atomic Veterans Memorial Highway.”  Bromley said many other states have so honored this group of veterans and its important that Missouri follow suit, especially as so many of them are elderly or have already passed on.

      “It’s just a way to remember these veterans and make the rest of us … understand the sacrifices and all of the contributions that these members made to our society and to the United States of America,” said Bromley. 

      The Veterans committee voted 12-0 to advance the measure.  It must go before one more committee and then could be considered by the full House.

VIDEO: Representative O’Donnell promoted to Lt. Commander

Representative Michael O’Donnell (R-St. Louis) received Monday a promotion to Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, on the Missouri House Chamber floor.  In front of his House colleagues, O’Donnell accepted the promotion in a ceremony that combined Navy traditions with House traditions. It was conducted by Representative Mike Haffner (R-Pleasant Hill), a Navy veteran.  House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) and Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher (R-St. Louis) assisted in the ceremony.

Mother says Marine son lives on in acts, honors by family and friends

The mother of a Perryville Marine says he lives on in the acts of kindness his friends and family do in his name.

Friends, family, and superiors often said when remembering Trevor Richardet that he was known for his “infectious smile.” (photo courtesy; Amy Hager)

Missouri House members last month honored Lance Corporal Trevor Richardet, who died in September at the age of 19, due to injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident while stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Richardet decided at 17 to join the Marines.  He went to boot camp in San Diego, California, and trained at Fort Leonard Wood before being stationed at Camp Lejeune.  He was able to wear his dress blues to walk across the stage for his high school graduation.

“He was my right hand for a long time,” said Richardet’s mom, Amy Hager.  “Anything you asked of him, he was always willing to help.  He was always willing to lend a helping hand.”

Representative Rick Francis (R-Perryville) said Richardet was a “great young man,” who, “enjoyed life but also was respectful.  It seemed like he had instilled in him the discipline even before he went into the military.”

When Richardet was brought home for his funeral, he was escorted from St. Louis by Patriot Guard riders and 50 to 100 Perryville residents.  Then as his body arrived in Perryville, hundreds of local residents turned out along the streets to “light his way” home.

“Starting at the Arnold overpass … there were fire trucks and people on every single overpass with lights on,” said Hager.  “Then once we got to the Perryville exit and we drove through town to the funeral home, the streets were lined with people holding flashlights and candles … all the way from the time we got off the interstate to the time we got to the funeral home.”

“It was just overwhelming.  I mean, it was amazing, but being in the situation I was in as a parent, that was just completely overwhelming to see that,” said Hager.

27 of Richardet’s fellow Marines took a bus from North Carolina all the way to Perryville to be present for his funeral, and six of them served as pallbearers.  Hager has kept in touch with some of those Marines as part of her effort to keep her son’s memory alive.

Trevor Richardet’s superiors noted he never lost a sense of wonder and awe at life, including the work being done by the Marines. (photo courtesy; Amy Hager)

“I don’t want his story to end just because he’s not here,” said Hager.  “We’ve stayed in contact with the Marines that came here, and they’re deployed right now, and my family and friends have got together three different times and sent them care packages … like 30 care packages going out each time.”

Another ongoing effort to remember Richardet will be a stipend that will go to seniors graduating from Perryville High School and going into the military.

“My intent is that once they complete boot camp and they have to buy a plane ticket to fly home for their leave before they go on, I want to pay for that plane ticket to fly them home,” said Hager.

That stipend has already been given to one graduate, who Hager learned was a friend of Richardet’s and who said Richardet inspired him to join the military.

He will also be honored at a Veterans memorial in Perryville and by a memorial at the Perryville High School.

Hager said the Marines who came to Perryville shared stories about how Richardet often helped them with car repairs to save them the cost of a trip to a mechanic, or how he would go out of his way to help anyone who needed it.

Trevor Richardet’s mother, father, stepfather, grandparents, and brothers receive copies of a resolution honoring Trevor and U.S. flags that flew over the Missouri Capitol on Veterans Day 2018. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

On May 8, Hager and Richardet’s father, Chad Richardet, stepfather, Mark Hager, and other members of the family, were presented with a resolution from the House and a pair of United States flags that flew over the Missouri Capitol on Veterans Day, 2018.

“His selfless service to our nation gave him fulfillment and made his family and friends extremely proud,” Francis said of Richardet that day.  “Our nation is the greatest in the world because of dedicated individuals like Trevor Richardet.  Without their willingness to sacrifice and serve we would not be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

In addition to his parents, Richardet is survived by five brothers and his grandparents.

Hundreds of Vietnam veterans and families honored in Missouri Capitol ceremony

Today hundreds of Vietnam veterans and their families gathered in the Missouri State Capitol, where they were honored by members of the House as well as Governor Mike Parson and Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe.

Hundreds of Vietnam veterans gathered in the Missouri Capitol for a ceremony to honor them during the ongoing 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The ceremony was part of the continuing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of that conflict.

“It is our hope that today and each day forward that you will always know that your state legislature, along with those serving in the executive and the judicial branch and the people of our great State of Missouri have not forgotten you, our Vietnam veterans, and we will never forget your service.  To you we are forever grateful,” Grant City Representative Allen Andrews (R) told the veterans and family members who filled the rotunda.

Click here to view a montage of photos taken during the ceremony

Andrews spearheaded the ceremony, which continues an annual tradition started by former state representative Pat Conway (D-St. Joseph) who left the legislature due to term limits.

Vietnam War veterans and their families gathered in the Missouri State Capitol rotunda for a ceremony honoring them during the ongoing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of that conflict. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Unfortunately [for] many of you here today this will be the first time that you have been honored.  This potentially may be the first time that you have been offered a sincere, ‘Thank you,’ for your service to our state and to our nation,” said Andrews.

Governor Parson, who served 6 years in the Army, said it wasn’t until he wore the uniform that he understood the importance of the U.S. flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.

“When I did figure out what it all meant, it wasn’t about me wearing the uniform.  It wasn’t necessarily about you wearing the uniform.  It was about all the people that wore the uniform before me and you.  It was about the sacrifices they made for our county,” said Parson.  “The only reason that we’re all here today, the only reason all of us have lived the American dream … is because of the sacrifices people made before you – the sacrifices to this country, to this service.  They stood on solid ground for me and you.”

Parson said he also wanted to thank another group, “that normally don’t get to be recognized and sometimes we take them for granted.”

Missouri House members wait during a ceremony to honor Vietnam War veterans to present those veterans with pins commemorating their service and the 50th anniversary of that conflict. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Today I also want to say, ‘thank you,’ to the mothers, fathers, wives, children, relatives, and friends that so many times worried and prayed for us while we were overseas, while we were gone from home.  They truly deserve distinction themselves for their service to the country by helping us when we served,” said Parson.

All the veterans who attended were pinned with a lapel pin proclaiming the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.  The pins were meant to recognize, thank, and honor those who served in that conflict.  The pins were presented by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and several House members.

“Allow me to offer you our most sincere gratitude for the selfless service that you have provided to our country.  This is a nation that is rich in tradition of heroism, of bravery, that is exhibited by outstanding individuals like you – Americans who put love of country before love of self,” said Andrews.

House votes to require veterans courts in all jurisdictions in Missouri

Every circuit court in the State of Missouri would have to have at least one veterans treatment court in its jurisdiction under a bill approved by the Missouri House.

Representative Dave Griffith (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Treatment courts utilize an intensive program of court supervision, drug or alcohol testing, and rehabilitation to help defendants overcome substance abuse, mental, emotional, or behavioral issues and keep them from re-offending.

Veterans treatment courts specifically focus on those who have served or currently serve in the military.  Many of their needs, including drug testing, utilize the Veterans Administration’s services.

Lawmakers said there is one circuit in the state that does not have a treatment court program.

House Bill 547 would require every circuit court in the state to establish a treatment court division.  For courts in which resources are not available for a veterans court, it would allow defendants who are veterans to have their cases transferred to any court in the circuit.

The bill is sponsored by Jefferson City representative Dave Griffith (R), who served in the Army as a Green Beret.

“When a soldier, a sailor, a marine, or an airman goes into battle, that experience changes who they are, and many of them come out of that experience and that situation different people.  They make decisions they very well would not have made prior to going on the battlefield.  Many turn to alcohol or drugs and because of those choices they can find themselves on the wrong side of the law,” said Griffith.  “The veterans treatment courts throughout the state will give these men and women an opportunity to clear their names, to get a clean record, and give them a second chance at life, but more importantly it will show them that we have not given up on them.”

Griffith said passing HB 547 would help mitigate the number of suicides among veterans in Missouri.

“#22 stands for the number of veterans committing suicide every day [nationwide].  This bill will show our veterans and military that we do care and we want to give them the second chance that they deserve,” said Griffith.

The bill would specify that veterans who had been in combat would be given preference by courts in determining whether to have their cases handled by a veterans court.  That provision was offered by Pleasant Hill Republican Mike Haffner, a retired Naval Officer and decorated combat veteran.

Representative Mike Haffner (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Let’s face it.  Men were never meant to kill men,” said Haffner.  “Every individual that goes into combat is changed psychologically.  They are never the same again, and the part that’s hard about this is the assimilation when we come back home.  For those that haven’t been in combat they don’t understand, coming into a room like this is not the same.  We’re forever changed … some can cope and some cannot.”

Some lawmakers expressed concerns about having courts prioritize combat veterans ahead of non-combat veterans, but Haffner maintains that no one who could benefit from veterans courts will be turned away.

“Given the triage priorities that they list [in the bill] I cannot think of a situation where any of the circuit courts, especially here in the State of Missouri, where this is going to be an issue given the number of vets that we have and how few of them are combat vets,” said Haffner.

Griffith thanked his colleagues for supporting the bill and said it is a further effort to honor veterans.

“When I was separated from the service my first sergeant told me not to wear my uniform home, but to wear civilian clothes.  As many of us walked through airports either returning home from deployment or separating from the service, we were cursed at, we were spit on, we were called ‘baby killers,’ and the list goes on and on.  Today when I look on Facebook and I see posts of soldiers receiving standing ovations in airports when they are making their way to their planes it brings a tear to my eye.” said Griffith.  “This bill will further support our veterans and military by giving them another resource to help them get the support they need so very badly.”

HB 547 would give courts until August 28, 2021 to establish a treatment court division.  The House voted 149-3 to send the bill to the Senate.

Missouri House considers legalizing medical use of marijuana

The Missouri House is one vote away from proposing that Missouri legalize the medical use of marijuana by people suffering from certain terminal or debilitating conditions.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 1554 would expand on a law passed in 2014 that allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, to treat intractable epilepsy.  If HB 1554 became law, a patient suffering from conditions including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder could use medical marijuana if a doctor signs a statement saying he or she could benefit from its use and that all options approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been considered.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), who is also a doctor.

“There’s a lot of people in my world, from the hospice and the long-term care world, that feel that this would be appropriate for people to ease the pain, suffering, and the side-effects of the opioids and this might be the best way to go,” said Neely.  He said the bill would give people, “another option at the end stages of life.”

House members including Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit) spoke about loved ones that might benefit from the legislation, such as his mother and sister who have multiple sclerosis.

Fitzwater said their neurologist, who he knows and trust, has said they should have the option of using marijuana for pain treatment.

“I trust his opinion.  He went to medical school.  He knows what he’s talking about.  He’s spent his career focused on multiple sclerosis and his patients are mainly multiple sclerosis patients,” said Fitzwater.  When he tells me that … [my] mom or [my] sister should have the option to come to their neurologist and discuss treatment options for pain – and this is a gentleman who is as professional as anybody I’ve ever met – they ought to have that opportunity.”

“Patients that have these debilitating diseases ought to have an option … when the doctors agree and there are professionals involved that know more about what’s going on with those patients than we do,” said Fitzwater.

Representative Gina Mitten (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Representative Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis) said a colleague of hers who is a practicing attorney must break her oath to uphold the law by using marijuana to treat her epilepsy, rather than use the prescription drugs that caused her to have a psychotic episode among other side effects.

“How is it that it’s okay to have to spend a night, or two nights, or three nights in a hospital due to medication that’s been prescribed and creates all kinds of other side effects, as opposed to something that we know in other states has worked very well for this disease?” asked Mitten.

Pacific Republican Paul Curtman sponsored adding PTSD to the legislation.  He described what he knows some of his fellow comrades in the Marine corps faced, and said leaving this issue facing veterans out of the bill would be a “travesty.”

He spoke about a fellow Marine from Missouri whose experience overseas included having to routinely wash the blood of friends out of the back of a Humvee.  Curtman said the man was prescribed by the Veterans’ Administration drugs that had numerous side effects.  For a time he used marijuana and that worked for him, but he was arrested and forced to return to the drugs prescribed by the VA.

“The VA came by and said if you ever [use marijuana] again you’re jeopardizing your ability to use any of your VA benefits.  So, after being on house arrest for a while with the VA checking up on him to make sure that he was taking the synthetic drugs that the VA wanted him to take, his father came home just a few weeks later only to find that his son had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” said Curtman.

Under the bill the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would issue medical cannabis registration cards to approved patients, or to parents in the cases of minor parents.  The bill would only allow the use of smokeless forms of marijuana.  HB 1554 also lays out how marijuana could be legally cultivated by licensed growers under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.

Another favorable vote would send the legislation to the Senate.  Two years ago the House rejected a bill that would have asked voters whether to legalize the limited, medical use of marijuana.