Wisconsin is expected to become the first state to set up a “Green Alert” system to help families and law enforcement officials locate missing at-risk veterans.
Advocates say they hope other states soon adopt Green Alerts, which are similar to the Amber and Silver alerts for missing children and older adults. The legislation unanimously passed the Wisconsin state Senate and is likely to pass the state Assembly in February, as first reported by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The idea was proposed by Gwen and Johnnie Adams, whose 45-year-old son, Corey Adams, went missing last March. Corey Adams, an Air Force veteran who had served in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and later in Kuwait and Afghanistan, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. But police could not help the family find him because he was an adult and didn’t meet certain criteria.
“I never want any other family to go through what we did,” Gwen Adams said in a phone interview from her home in Milwaukee. “This needs to happen across the country. There aren’t any laws on the books in our local communities which help look for veterans who are at risk, especially from the mental health standpoint.”
Johnnie Adams, a Vietnam War veteran who served three years in the Army, said he was baffled that the police couldn’t help.
About 20 veterans take their lives every day, according to a 2016 Department of Veterans Affairs study. But the numbers could be double that because some states don’t report, intentional overdoses aren’t included and some veterans aren’t registered with Veterans Affairs, said Sara Dawdy, CEO of Mission 22, a nonprofit that has treatment programs for PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
“We get messages all the time that veterans are missing and asked to share pictures. There really is no way to get the word out quickly that someone is missing,” Dawdy said. “You’re running on a very short time frame. So I love the idea of this alert — it will help veterans get help so much faster.”
Gwen Adams said she began to worry about her son when she returned home from running an errand and he was gone.
“It was his day off from working at the post office, and he was almost always just home. I knew something wasn’t right,” she said. “We called the police. They said they couldn’t do anything.”
Gwen Adams said her son “loved to fish, cook, exercise and spend time with his family.” But he had become withdrawn and stopped talking to friends and eating in the weeks before he disappeared.
When the police said they couldn’t help, the family formed a search party. They posted fliers with his picture throughout their neighborhood and at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, where Corey had spent six weeks for trauma related to his service. They also posted his picture on Facebook and sought help from the local media.
His body was found 18 days later, on April 7, in a lagoon in a park near the family’s home.
State Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee), who introduced the bill, said she wants every state to set up a Green Alert system.
“I think this is a good start — my heart really goes out to the family,” she said in an interview. “If Corey were left in Afghanistan, they would have looked for him right away. And the fact that when veterans come home, we can’t extend that same courtesy just angered me.”
She said Green Alerts won’t need a budget because they can be attached to existing alert systems. She’s hoping the bill will pass the assembly and be signed by the governor this month.
“I know this won’t help with the pain of missing Corey,” she said. “But if they see a green alert flashing across cellphones and televisions for missing veterans, I am hoping their family will know that’s because of Corey. His life mattered and made a difference.”