Wisconsin the First State to Implement Green Alert to Prevent Veteran Suicides

Concerns about privacy surface with this potentially life-saving bill.

The Green Alert is issued in the same way Amber and Silver alerts are — on billboards or text messages. The criteria: a physical or mental health condition related to one’s service, whether veteran or active member of the armed forces, national guard or the military reserves.

Wisconsin is the first state to implement the alerts, but for one Wisconsin unnamed man, to see all his information on a billboard while driving was too much.

“It felt very violating. Because I didn’t want everyone who doesn’t know me to know I have problems. It made me want to crawl into a bigger hole,” he told NPR.

“…At the same time it’s quite possible that it’s why I’m here right now,” said the former Air Force staff sergeant. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword.”

Debates over whether the alert violates the privacy and increases stigma of vets struggling with mental health issues are understandable, but others say it has already saved lives. The VA said about 20 veterans a day commit suicide.

Wisconsin’s veteran suicide rate of 36 per 100,000 residents is more than double the state and national overall suicide rates. In 2014, the most recent year for statistics, 133 of 736 reported suicides in Wisconsin were veterans.

The unnamed veteran never gave consent to have his name and at-risk status broadcasted on TV, billboard, radio, and the internet, but law enforcement can have access to information to help locate missing people.

Health information is protected by HIPAA generally, but protections are more fluid around emergency situations where a person is in “imminent danger.”

Vital details like identity, and  history of suicide ideation, self-harming behaviors, medications and diagnoses are shared for the purpose of assisting a person in their recovery.

Several senators have proposed to promote the bill for Green Alerts nationally and work to address privacy.

“If a soldier goes missing in the field, his or her unit will send out a search and rescue party. When an at-risk veteran goes missing at home, it should be all of our jobs to assist with the search however we can,” said state Sen. LaTonya Johnson in a press release.

The bill in Wisconsin, called the Corey Adams Searchlight Act, was prompted by the death of a Black Air Force veteran, Corey Adams, after he was missing for 18 days.

In March 2017 his family told officers Adams suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, but it took eight days before he was determined to meet the critical missing criteria.