A day after voting against the impeachment of President Donald Trump for the second time, Congressman Michael Waltz was back in his home district, participating in his “Undercover Congressman” series and speaking about a subject dear to his heart – suicide prevention.
Rep. Waltz, R-St. Augustine, appeared at a function put on by local car dealer Randy Dye and his stock-car racing son, Daniel, at Ben Kennedy Racing in Daytona Beach. Daniel Dye drives for BKR.
Daniel Dye, 17, a junior at Father Lopez Catholic High School, drives the No. 43 Halifax Health Race to Stop Suicide Chevrolet in super late model and ARCA Menards Series East races.
Rep. Waltz took on the role of a race car crew member at the socially-distanced event Jan. 14 at the BKR shop.
“This series kind of rips off ‘Undercover Boss,’” said Rep. Waltz, who, under the direction of real crew members, fueled, changed a tire and performed engine adjustments on a Daniel Dye race car. He also got the chance to put on a helmet and slide into the driver’s seat.
In previous “undercover” stops, he took orders at a Chick-fil-A, served breakfast at a DeBary diner, served up ice cream at the New Smyrna Beach Dairy Queen, tossed dough at Giuseppe’s Steel City Pizza in Port Orange, delivered mail for the post office and wore the brown uniform as a UPS delivery man.
“It’s just a great way to connect with folks, walk a minute in their shoes,” Rep. Waltz said. “I had a lot of fun doing UPS in particular, people looking at you, ‘You’re not my delivery guy.’
“You just need a minute to connect,” he continued. “We’re not a bunch of jerks up in Washington D.C. There are a number of those that are disconnected from their communities and lose sight of the fact that we work for you.”
“The Race to Stop Suicide” is more than a race car sponsorship from Halifax Health. It’s become a mission, Randy Dye said.
“Wherever we go we’ll be trying to make a difference,” he said.
John Guthrie, Halifax Health’s vice president of corporate communications, said he suggested this specific message on Daniel’s cars because suicide discussion needs attention.
“Randy really took it even further than I had ever thought,” Mr. Guthrie said. “We’re promoting getting away from a stigma and really trying to connect people to resources, because we don’t have enough resources in this community.”
Rep. Waltz and State Sen. Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, spoke about getting treatment for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury and have difficulty acclimating back into society.
According to the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, there were 46,510 American adult suicide deaths in 2018 and 6,435 of those were veterans.
“What happens to the veterans is they’re on a rollercoaster ride,” Sen. Wright said. “They become combative and abusive. Their marriages often times fall apart and we just keep medicating them. And so they can’t get a job, they can’t keep a job.”
He co-sponsored the Alternative Treatment Options for Veterans bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in 2019.
Rep. Waltz, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is the first member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, elected to Congress.
“As Tom was saying, suicide is a real problem in this country,” he said. “We’re losing far more in the military (to suicide) than we ever have in combat. The (Veterans Administration) has gone from a budget of $45 billion in 2000 to $210 billion by 2020 and the stats are the same. We’re not getting the return on the investment from your money.”
Rep. Waltz said he was able to help pass a bill last year that sends money directly to community organizations that treat veterans.
“They’re staffed by the community, often by other veterans,” he said.
Another bill, the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, provides a VA pilot program that trains and furnishes service dogs to veterans.
“They’d been studying it for six years whether service dogs work from a mental health standpoint. We know they do,” he said.
Rep. Waltz said veterans and others who suffer from mental health issues don’t need sympathy, they need a sense of purpose. He knows this from experience.
“As a Green Beret, we woke up every day with that mission mindset, with people to our left and our right that shared our same values, and then they get back home, you don’t have that anymore,” he said. “Yes, PTSD is a factor. TBI is a factor. I’ve suffered from all of those. I’ve had to get help … it’s still a little uncomfortable talking about it, but we have to talk about it. And we need to share what we’ve gone through.”
Rep. Waltz said he was able to channel his issues through the writing of a book about his experiences as an officer in Afghanistan and a policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, “Warrior Diplomat: A Green Beret’s Battles from Washington to Afghanistan.”
Rep. Waltz, who stopped by the vaccination site at the Volusia County fairgrounds in DeLand earlier in the day, also spoke about the Jan. 6 capitol riots that interrupted the Senate and House presidential election certification proceedings.
“I joke all the time when people ask me how it’s going, I say, ‘well at least I’m not getting shot at … at least I’m not in Afghanistan.’ Well … that calculation changed. Never in a million years did I think I’d be in the heartbeat of our democracy helping people with gas masks, barricading doors, hearing gunfire and teargas grenades going off. We can never ever, ever, ever have that happen again. I don’t care what your cause, what your passion, what your heartbreak, what your frustration is, we just can’t have it.
“That said, we also need to let people know that we hear them. We have people now that feel like they elected someone who finally spoke their voice, spoke their issues, spoke in a way that wasn’t so politically correct, was then harassed and harangued. I’m not condoning anything. I just need people to understand that I hear that frustration.”