The Department of Veterans Affairs is hoping to adapt a tactic used to stem veteran homelessness to bolster suicide prevention.
In the coming weeks, the VA will partner with several states to pool resources and draw attention to veteran suicides, officials announced last week. In recent years, the VA data has shown that an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day.
The effort, known as the Governor’s Challenge, is similar to the Mayor’s Challenge, which formed partnerships between the VA and cities across the country with a goal of combating veteran homelessness.
VA officials said they hope a more involved approach will help reduce the number of veteran suicides.
In a congressional staff briefing, Dr. Keita Franklin, the director the Office of Suicide Prevention, said, “We’re shifting form a model that says ‘let’s sit in our hospitals and wait for people to come to us’ and take it to them.”
Data gathered by the Office of Suicide Prevention suggest the majority of veterans who commit suicide do not seek assistance at their local health services facilities. Sometimes a veteran in distress will contact their local hospital or doctor first. In these cases, communication between the VA and these facilities will be critical to connecting the veteran with the support they need.
Ten states have been formally invited to participate in the Governor’s Challenge. They include Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia.
“Preventing Veteran suicide is our number one clinical priority,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “This is a national problem that demands a nationwide response.”
VA officials also announced a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security to spread awareness of mental health and VA suicide prevention resources. Veterans make up approximately 28 percent of the DHS workforce.