Vet arranges flag honor for doc’s life-saving work

Bronx VA psychiatrist-researcher cited for work in suicide prevention


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Project Life Force helps Veterans cope with suicidal urges

“You often hear negative news about the VA, specifically related to suicide. We don’t recognize the hard work and achievements of our providers, which is why I wanted to honor Dr. Goodman. Sometimes we need to recognize good work in the news.”

Those are the words of Iraq combat Veteran Wilfredo Santos, a patient at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. He took it upon himself to arrange for formal honors for a VA clinician he credits with saving his life.

The life-saving work took place not in an emergency room or surgery suite, but in classrooms at the Bronx VA where groups of Veterans—including Santos—meet on a regular basis. They talk about their problems, their challenges and their experiences in wanting to take their own lives. The idea of the program is to bring together Vets who have a recent history of suicidal thinking or behavior and provide them with group psychotherapy. They use peer support and revise their safety plans as they add the skills they are learning.

The format, known as Project Life Force, was spearheaded by Dr. Marianne Goodman. She’s the associate director of the New York Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC), based at the Bronx VA. She is also a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Project being expanded to other VA sites

The model she pioneered has been expanded to a few other VA sites so far—Kansas City, Albany and Syracuse. It is being tested in a VA-funded randomized clinical trial at the Bronx and Philadelphia VA medical centers. The study will include 265 Veterans.

With the help of Santos’ congressman, Rep. Jose Serrano, a flag flew over the U.S. Capitol in Goodman’s honor on June 1. Goodman received the flag in a ceremony at the Bronx VA in August.

Santos, an Army mechanic who deployed to Iraq during 2008 and 2009, says Project Life Force has been a life-saver for him and his peers.

“We communicate with other Veterans in the room to offer support and generate ideas on how to distract yourself so you don’t hurt yourself. We truly use our suicide safety plans and make them part of our everyday lives.”

Veterans in suicide support group feel someone understands

Group sessions for Veterans with issues like PTSD or anger are common in VA, but Goodman has been breaking new ground by running groups for suicidal Veterans. Some experts fear that having suicidal patients mix and share their thoughts and feelings could actually increase risk. Goodman and her team have found otherwise. She says the very power of the intervention appears to be the group.

“Veterans no longer feel alone,” she says. “They feel someone understands their impulses and urges.”

As for the flag honor that Santos initiated, Goodman takes it as a sign of the impact of Project Life Force: “The flag and the dedication on Capitol Hill are an incredible honor. It’s a great feeling to know that our work is helping Veterans find meaning and purpose in their lives.”

Author

Mitch Mirkin

Mitch Mirkin is the senior writer and editor for VA’s Office of Research and Development. He joined VA in 2000 and previously worked as publications manager for a large geriatric center and as managing editor of a community newspaper. Mitch holds a master’s in mass media arts and journalism from Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

Comments

  1. Paula Minger    

    As wonderful as this is it just helps to keep the false narrative that POST 9/11 vets w PTSD have the highest suicide risk. They have the LOWEST risk

    Elder Vietnam vets who don’t use the V.A. make up the majority of the 17 suicides each day

    Post 9/11 vets claiming PTSD suffer suicidal ideation and seldom act on it

    1. Amanda Gray    

      Hi Paula,
      I understand your frustration with veteran suicide. It’s a complicated and saddening issue. However, your comment is insensitive and also not backed by the data.

      While it is true that male veterans aged 55 and older experience the highest COUNTS of suicide, that doesn’t mean that post-9/11 vets “seldom act” on suicidal ideation. In fact, male veterans aged 18-34 experience the highest RATES of suicide. Post-9/11 veterans are less likely to die by suicide, but they are attempting suicide at even higher rates than their older counterparts (https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/data-sheets/2017/2017_Key_Data_Points_Infographic.pdf).

      Perpetuating the idea that post-9/11 vets who are “claiming” PTSD don’t act on their suicidal ideation is not only thoughtless, it’s dangerous. #BeThere

    2. Amanda Gray    

      Hi Paula,

      I understand your frustration with veteran suicide. It is a complicated and heartbreaking issue. However, your comments are not only insensitive, they are also incorrect.

      While it is true that male veterans aged 55 and older experience the highest COUNT of suicide, that’s not where the story ends. Male veterans aged 18-24 (post-9/11 veterans) experience the highest RATES of suicide. This means that post-9/11 male veterans are attempting to commit suicide at higher rates but the attempts are not successful. It is absurd to conclude that post-9/11 veterans who suffer from suicidal ideation “seldom act on it”.

      This ideology that post-9/11 veterans “claim” PTSD and “seldom act” on suicidal ideation is dangerous. It results in post-9/11 veterans being excluded from the important topic of suicide prevention. I implore you to read more about veteran suicide because our veterans deserve better.

      In case you would like to read more, my facts are from:
      https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/data.asp
      https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/data-sheets/2017/2017_Key_Data_Points_Infographic.pdf

  2. Ross Burnett    

    Could you edit the photo caption to identify each person?

  3. James Lee Chambers. Jr    

    I’m a older veteran of the service. Between active and reserve I cumulated around 16 years of service but I had to get out due to how the service was heading into the all volunteer service and how things were changing which I didn’t think were right. Back to me I was station at a reserve center in Reading California. During my period there I had to go and notified several parents of there son being killed in action. I had to stand by each day till the body arrived and the funeral was over. I started to dirnk regular heavy and ws not very nice at home. Than I was transfer to Treaure Island where I was attached to Com 12. My drinking and other things return to normal but during that period I had thought of doing harem to myself . I was a recruiter that was enlisting boys to go serve and new were they would be heading was heavy on me. So after a period of time I felt I had done enough for my country and left the service. Fast forward to present day being 75 years old had been working since I was 14 years old and now I have many conditions with my health there has been times where I felt my life was useless and I should not be here. Been many of time driving home alone where I thought about taking my life. What stop me was my granddaughter. She thinks the world of me and I of her. She has tried to take her own life in her teen years. But we have talk with each other made a promise if either of us felt like thst to either call or text each other and thst is what we do. So she is almostb21 and we still text each other because we still have things we both have to work out uet.

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