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Bezotte gets emotional during committee hearing on veterans’ mental health
RELEASE|May 24, 2024
Contact: Bob Bezotte

State Rep. Bob Bezotte got choked up during a committee hearing on veterans’ mental health while recalling his experience getting out of the Army after serving in Vietnam.

Bezotte started by joking that if he testifies on this subject again, he would appreciate it if he could go ahead of another representative who is also a veteran, before pausing and saying “because he brings up some bad memories and some things that we dealt with.” At that point Bezotte, R-Howell, choked up and had to take a moment before he shared his own experience getting back home.

“When I got off the plane at about 2 in the morning… we just wanted to go home. We’re feeling lucky that we even got home, to be honest with you,” Bezotte said. “We were mustered out, they asked us if we wanted to go to bed and muster out the next morning and we said no, we want out now.”

“So we were out of the Army,” Bezotte said. “With no surveys, no questions, you just get on a plane and go home and then you have to deal with your issues,” Bezotte said.

Bezotte was testifying May 14 in support of a bipartisan package of legislation intended to help improve veterans’ mental health. Specifically, Bezotte was testifying about his bill, House Bill 5720, which would provide an optional mental health assessment that active-duty service members and veterans may use to gauge their own mental wellbeing.

“You can’t go to war without out it affecting you. I don’t care who you are. I want veterans to know that we all deal with this stuff,” Bezotte said. “In the 52 years since I got back from Vietnam, I think I’ve only really talked to my family about it maybe about a dozen times,” Bezotte said after the hearing. 

Bezotte stressed that the survey is completely optional, and anonymous. He said the survey is a stepping-stone that can be used in private in case service members or veterans want to access additional mental health resources.

Twenty-two veterans a day take their own lives through suicide. Others turn to alcohol and drugs to cope. And it’s not just recent veterans; veterans over 50 take their own lives at a much higher rate than the general population.

“Vietnam veterans traditionally don’t trust anybody. That’s maybe a generational thing, but they certainly don’t trust the government.” Bezotte said. “I want veterans to know we’re doing it for the right reasons, we’re not trying to stick our nose in their business, we’re trying to be there for them. And it’s optional.”

House Bills 5276-5280 would:

  • Establish the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention within the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. It also ensures the collection of data surrounding mental health and substance abuse issues.
  • Establish a statewide outreach program on mental health and substance abuse for service members and veterans. The program would also provide resources and support for family members of service members and veterans navigating mental health and substance abuse issues.
  • Establish a county veteran service officer training program within the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. This optional program will allow county veteran service officers to receive training and be able to administer a basic mental health and substance abuse screening to veterans.
  • Place the Buddy-to-Buddy Volunteer Mentorship Program within state law. This will offer stability for the program, which offers one-on-one, veteran-to-veteran mentorship.
  • Create a transition program for all Army and Air National Guard members in the state focused on mental health and wellbeing, navigating the military to civilian transition, and exploring ways to find purpose after service.  

The legislation is currently in the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee. Bezotte said the bills still need work, but that they are moving in the right direction.

“Everyone understands physical injuries, but a lot of us have mental injuries as well. And then families and friends suffer along with you,” Bezotte said. “I want veterans to know there are tools out there to help you be happy.” 

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VIDEO: State Rep. Bob Bezotte testifying in a committee hearing on May 14 about how to improve veterans’ mental health. Clip is 3 minutes 20 seconds, 60 fps, 480mb:

 Bezotte_Committee Speech – 05-14-24.mp4

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