VA’s deputy director of Suicide Prevention, Dr. Caitlin Thompson, will participate in the “Behind the Lines” panel discussion hosted by The Washington Post at 6:30 pm today. Five other speakers will join her as they discuss and answer questions about the long-term effects of war have on Veterans.
Being a voice for suicide prevention may not have been what Thompson originally intended when she began her career with VA, but her passion for helping those in crisis, and her new position, pushed her to speak more on the issue. She’s known people who have died by suicide, attempted suicide, and she felt more could have been done to help them.
“Continuing to reach out to people and letting them know what VA is doing for Veterans, is incredibly important,” Thompson said of her role on the panel. “Events like these are a huge challenge, but they can also be informative for those that need help, or know somebody who does. It’s an honor for me to be a part of this talk.”
Almost nine years after Thompson first walked into the Denver VAMC as an intern, she still remembers the way it felt to interact with her patients. She had no ties to the military and had never worked at a VA facility before, but was immediately drawn to Veterans and their needs — especially older Vets who were dealing with decades of mental health issues.
“I knew that I wanted to work for Veterans,” she said. “Just to be able to be a part of these men and women’s lives and really help them better understand what’s going on with them. Whether it’s something that happened 40 years ago, or within the last year, it seemed to be a perfect fit for me.”
She went on to work at the National Veterans Crisis Line as the clinical care coordinator and saw the life-saving service go from 30 responders to 300 staff members during her five-year tenure. The crisis line is now a vital part of VA’s suicide prevention efforts and has received more than a million calls since being established in 2007.
Now, the Allentown, Pennsylvania native is responsible for policy development and provider and patient education in the areas of suicide awareness and prevention — implementing assessment and treatment strategies and the dissemination of new findings in the area of suicide throughout the VA system. She is proud of the work VA is doing and how far the program has come with the help of dedicated employees like the 300 suicide prevention coordinators across the country.
“Suicide prevention is so deeply important,” the Brown University alumna said. “We know that people who get care do better and are able to stave off being suicidal thoughts … There’s always lots more to be done, but we will continue to move this program forward and stay on the frontlines of helping Veterans.”
Follow the twitter hashtag #AftertheWars to ask questions and join in on the conversation.