Suicide prevention is the primary clinical priority at VA. Dr. David Shulkin, secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Dr. Poonam Alaigh, acting under secretary for Health, know VA “can’t do it alone” and emphasize the importance of partnerships with community nongovernmental organizations to meet the complex and comprehensive needs of Veterans.
Alaigh highlighted successful partnerships between VHA medical centers and their local communities to showcase best practices for “Collaborating with Community Partners to Prevent Suicide Amongst Veterans 50 Years and Older,” the theme for the 2017 Community Partnership Challenge. Partnering with the community to address this national crisis makes sense for many reasons including the fact that more than two-thirds of Veterans dying by suicide seek care outside the VA system.
Additionally, expanding VA’s reach through the community enables the suicide prevention messages to extend to a larger audience and increase awareness of warning signs among Veterans’ families, survivors, and caregivers. The effort focused on Veterans 50 and older because of the alarming number of deaths by suicide within this age group, which is contrary to the common belief that suicide is higher among younger Veterans. These public-private partnerships support all Veterans, without respect to where they receive their care or engage with their community.
Here are the top examples of how VA medical centers are partnering with their local community to support suicide prevention.
The Albany Stratton VA Medical Center works with Veteran Service Agencies and faith-based organizations to educate the local community of Veterans, Servicemembers, and civilians about suicide prevention strategies and the risk of gun violence.
The VA Connecticut Healthcare System is joining with the Southwestern Area Agencies on Aging program for Health insurance assistance, Outreach, Information and referral, Counseling, and Eligibility Screening (CHOICES) to decrease isolation and among this high-risk Veteran population by identifying those Veterans in crisis.
The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C. is partnering with local law enforcement agencies to educate first responders about mental illness, suicide risk management, violence risk, and interface strategies, enhancing the officer’s ability to identify signs and symptoms of mental illness.
Suicide Prevention Help:
If you or someone you know needs help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or send a text to 838255. To learn more about this free, confidential 24-hour service, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention.
Lelia Jackson is the Director of the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) and serves as the national representative for public and private entities interested in partnering with Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to benefit Veterans, their families, caregivers, and Survivors. Lelia has a bachelor’s degree in criminology and a master’s degree in technology management from the University of Maryland University College. Lelia is a Veteran who served 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.