Army National Guard Lt. Col. Dana Graf said state legislators Tuesday had an opportunity to ease the accumulating mental health burden on dozens of counselors assisting Kansas soldiers and airmen.
He urged passage of House Bill 2365 to grant Kansas National Guard counselors the same confidentiality afforded in state law for Kansas firefighters, emergency personnel and law enforcement officers who participated in peer-support counseling sessions.
The reform is expected to increase Kansas Guard involvement in counseling by prohibiting peer-support conversations of regularly enlisted, officer or civilian members from disclosure during discovery in court cases or from introduction as evidence in a judicial proceeding.
In the past year, Graf said, one of the Kansas Guard's care providers committed suicide.
"They work to support our Guard members with issues relating to relationships, job loss, work issues, financial issues, health or possibly stemming from deployments," he said. "It's a challenging job. As time goes on, those struggles and those challenges build up for themselves."
He said other agencies with experience with traumatic events recommended the confidentiality provision to help encourage Kansas Guard members to be part of healthy discussions about pressures of the job.
Members of the House Veterans and Military Committee expressed support for the bill, but also raised the possibility of amending it.
Rep. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, said the idea perhaps could be expanded to all Kansas military members.
"I understand the intent and it sounds like a good idea in a lot of ways," Pittman said.
Rep. John Wheeler, R-Garden City, said he was concerned confidentiality could be broken if statements by an individual indicating a desire to harm someone were forwarded up the chain of command at the Kansas Guard.
"I want to make it very clear that I support this," he said. "If this person kills somebody and you have reported it into the chain of command -- not to a doctor, not to a psychiatrist or a priest, those people who hold a privilege -- could they then be subpoeaned to say this person reported that they were going to kill someone?"
Graf said Wheeler's information about potential harm to people wouldn't be protected by confidentiality under the hypothetical raised by Wheeler.
Meanwhile, the committee discussed House Bill 2353, which would allow recipients of a Purple Heart to receive one free Kansas vehicle license plate. Rep. Brenda Dierks, R-Salina, made a motion to pass the bill, which was withdrawn when questions were raised about cost of the measure to county and state government.
"It's probably going to be over $100,000," said Rep. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka.
Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said he agreed with Dietrich that it was "just bad precedent" to move a bill out of committee without an idea of the cost.