AUSTIN (Nexstar) — More resources will soon be available for members of the military facing mental illnesses.
A new Texas law will create a statewide Camo Alert. It’s similar to the Amber Alert for missing children and Silver Alert systems for missing senior citizens. The Camo Alert focuses specifically on military members who have a mental illness, like post traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.
The legislation was authored by Houston Democrat Ana Hernandez.
“Military members that are struggling with mental illness often times isolate themselves and disappear without notice,” Hernandez told lawmakers in a March committee meeting.
The alert system would apply to any person who is a current or former member of the United States armed forces, including the National Guard or a reserve or auxiliary unit of any branch of the armed forces.
According to House Bill 833, which Gov. Abbott signed into law, a Camo Alert would activate when law enforcement determine that the military member’s disappearance “poses a credible threat to the military member ’s health and safety or the health and safety of another.”
“It creates opportunities for people who… may disconnect with reality,” Alissa Sughrue, policy coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Texas said. “They may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and so this provides an opportunity for those who care about them to be able to locate them.”
While it’s designed to protect health and safety of military members, there are concerns about balancing safety risks with privacy. The Camo Alert is an opt-in system for those who meet the mental illness criteria and who have “elected to participate in the alert system,” the bill states.
“You don’t have to necessarily say ‘here’s all of this person’s business,’” Sughrue said. “We don’t necessarily put every detail in an Amber Alert. We just generally know they’re missing. There might be issues going on- in this case there might be mental health issues going on.”
Mental health of military members past and present is taking priority in other states. Hernandez said Wisconsin and Delaware legislatures established similar alert systems within the last couple of years. Other states have considered similar measures.
In celebration of the Army’s 244th Birthday, leadership in the Army Futures Command gave the oath of enlistment to eight new recruits in Austin on Monday.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from in the United States, it doesn’t matter your background, where you grew up, your race, your creed, your color, this is all about army green and this is all about being something bigger than yourself and being a part of the American ideal, and really the American dream,” four-star Gen. Mike Murray said at the ceremony.
Military leaders hope the Camo Alert can protect those who served and those who still do.
“Texas is well known as a state that takes care of its military and its veterans,” Col. Patrick Seiber said. “This just further demonstrates how serious Texas is about taking care of the military families and veterans.”
The Camo Alert begins in Texas as a five year pilot program that starts in September and expires in 2023.
“I look forward to working w/ @TxDPS to provide every tool necessary to help our heroes & their loved ones,” Hernandez tweeted.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, in conjunction with other state agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation, will be in charge of implementing the alert system.
“This alert will be a valuable tool for law enforcement and we look forward to working with you as we implement the provisions of this bill,” Public Safety Commission Chairman Steven Mach and DPS Director Col. Steven McCraw wrote to Rep. Hernandez in May.
Other Texas legislation this session tackled an alert system for missing adults between the ages of 18 and 65 who are believed to be in danger. House Bill 1759 comes after Trinity University cheerleader Cayley Mandadi died in 2017 after being sexually assaulted. An Amber Alert was not issued because she was too old for one. Gov. Abbott signed the bill into law, which takes effect in Sept.