Legislative budget writers have approved a Division of Veterans Services budget for next year that includes a $110,000 funding boost to help get a state suicide prevention hotline back up and running. The budget, proposed by Reps. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, and George Eskridge, R-Dover, both veterans, includes $110,000 as “seed money” for a state suicide prevention hotline; that would combine with $50,000 from the Department of Health & Welfare and donations from numerous other sources to get the hotline up and running. “It is needed - we've got one of the highest suicide rates in the country,” Eskridge said. Hagedorn said, “Veterans have twice the rate of non-veterans. We lose 18 veterans every day to suicide” nationwide. “It's pretty shocking.” In Idaho, he said, “We've had some issues with family members of deployed (service members).”
Idaho's previous hotline closed at the end of 2006 for lack of funding. Since then, various locally funded hotlines around the country have volunteered to temporarily take Idaho calls; currently, Idaho calls are being answered by a locally funded community hotline in Oregon. Kathie Garrett, chair of the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention, said earlier that the National Guard has agreed to furnish free space to house the hotline, and the Jeret “Speedy” Petersen Foundation has offered a $10,000 donation. Mountain States Group has agreed to operate the hotline once funding is secured.
The budget was approved on a unanimous, 19-0 vote; it reflects a 1.3 percent reduction from this year's level in state general funds, but an overall increase of 34.3 percent in total funds, due in part to the inclusion of $7.6 million in federal grant funds to expand Idaho's Veterans Cemetery.