SecVA: REACH campaign strives to reduce Veteran suicide


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Editor’s note: This blog was updated July 8 at 12:19 p.m.

Reducing national suicide, including for Veterans, is the goal of a new REACH campaign, unveiled July 7 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The campaign’s mission is to educate all Americans that suicide is preventable and to encourage them to REACH to those in need to provide hope. It also encourages people who are hurting to REACH to find help. When people REACH, suicide will be prevented.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie joined other senior governmental officials from The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide to launch the campaign.

During his remarks, Wilkie cited Korean War Veteran and Army Gen. Matthew Ridgway, who went to Korea during the war to restore confidence in the 8th Army. Ridgway’s goal was to motivate his men to continue fighting. Wilkie cited Ridgway’s memoir, where he said the fighting spirit of soldiers is rooted “in the individuals’ sense of security, of belonging to a unit that will stand by him.”

Wilkie also cited Ridgway’s observation the soldiers were vulnerable to feeling alone, something the new campaign seeks to overcome.

“Early intervention can help and connecting with people can give them a sense of belonging that keeps them in the fight,” the secretary said. “The effort Ridgway made in Korea is now the effort we must make here in America to end suicide.”

Wilkie said the new campaign is aimed at pointing people, including Veterans, in the right direction.

“That’s the purpose of the REACH campaign we’re launching here today,” Wilkie said. “REACH will remind everyone that they can make a difference by learning how to connect with those at risk and point them in the right direction. The PREVENTS initiative and this campaign is an attempt to change the culture of this country.”

The program centers on protective factors and also knowing the risk factors involved in suicide. According to PREVENTS Executive Director Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, all of us have risk factors to some degree. Some common risk factors include  financial strain, chronic health concerns or pain, a prior suicide attempt, a history of mental illness, substance use and misuse challenges, access to lethal means, an overall sense of hopelessness, and recent loss such as the death of a loved one, divorce or loss of job. Protective factors include access to health and mental health care (including substance misuse treatment), sense of connectedness and belonging, satisfying interpersonal relationships, effective problem-solving skills, good physical health, financial security, and a sense of mission or purpose.

The campaign’s website is https://www.wearewithinreach.net and it uses the hashtag #REACHnow on social media.

“We are facing an epidemic of suicide,” said Second Lady Karen Pence, who is leading a national public-awareness campaign to prevent Veteran suicide. “But suicide is preventable.”

The PREVENTS roadmap, released on June 17, has 10 recommendations moving forward.

“Working together, I think we can implement this roadmap,” Pence said. “The mission is to save lives.”

On average, 132 Americans die by suicide each day, accounting for 47,173 suicide deaths in 2017. The number of Veteran suicides has exceeded 6,000 each year from 2008-2017. Suicide is also the 10th leading cause of death among all ages and the 2nd leading cause of death among those aged 10-34 in the United States.

“Our service members understand that they must look out for one other, on the battlefield, in the barracks and at home where the shared experiences unite all,” said Matthew Donovan, undersecretary of defense for Personnel and Readiness. “Every American can play a role in this fight to prevent suicide.”

Campaign pledge

The campaign also has a pledge people can sign:

I, Your Name, pledge to do my part to help change the national conversation around mental health and suicide by:

  • Learning about suicide risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs;
  • Promoting and initiating conversations about PREVENTS’ resources, efforts and activities;
  • Supporting efforts where and how I can;
  • Sharing social media messages from PREVENTS;
  • Encouraging others to utilize PREVENTS’ resources;
  • Using safe messaging; and
  • Inspiring other individuals to take the PREVENTS Pledge to REACH;
  • Practicing and encouraging lethal means safe storage.

By signing this pledge, I understand that suicide prevention is a national public health challenge and that everyone has a role to play. I am committed to increasing awareness of mental health challenges and suicide prevention practices to reduce suicide for all Americans.

About PREVENTS

President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13861 calling for the development of a comprehensive, all-government and whole-nation approach. PREVENTS will focus on a holistic public health approach to suicide prevention. PREVENTS seeks to change the culture surrounding mental health and suicide prevention through enhanced community integration, prioritized research activities, and implementation strategies that emphasize improved overall health and well-being.

Author

Adam Stump

Adam Stump is a public affairs specialist with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team. He is a retired Air Force Veteran who served 20 years, including two deployments to Afghanistan for detention operations and special operations.

Comments

  1. Dean Van Zanardi    

    Why is marijuana viewed as a schedule 1 drug in this day and age.

  2. Shaun Norman    

    Want to help Veterans? Want to limit the amount of suicides us Veterans bring ourselves to? Federally Legalize Marijuana and allow us to partake in a medicine you find worse than heroin. Pathetic excuses, VFW has already progressively asked Congress and the President to do this for us, yet you sit idly and watch us die.

    1. Bran    

      No kidding, I saw posters all over my VA asking veterans with PTSD to sign up for trials with ketamine as treatment. They would rather us have KETAMINE than marijuana.

  3. Dustin Gregg    

    I happen to be an individual that has suffered the loss of 3 brothers or suicide unfortunately. Although I have struggled with suicide in the past I found ways to overcome and not let it control my life or end it I guess you could say. I’m sharing this because I feel I maybe able to share my story, co-oping mechanisms, and experiences with y’all, with hope that they might help you find peace within and live a full and prosperous life as we all were intended to do.
    Thank you for reading,
    Dustin Gregg

    1. Tonia    

      I am very happy you shared your story because it can help so many people! I have had two members of my family who chose to end their lives for reasons we will never know! I know the pain is real! I pray that each of you find solace in reading Gods word because it is truly food for the soul.
      Tonia Jones

    2. James Carrington    

      No, your story does not help a bit.
      The VA does not help, even the least little bit.

  4. Kirstin Lee Dooley    

    I’ve seen this technique and would like to know more. I’m an RN and would love to help out in VA centers/hospitals if that’s something you are looking for.

  5. Kirstin Lee Dooley    

    Thank you for this opportunity and honor to help someone in distress.

  6. Neil Goodman    

    V.A. approved the use of EFT for Veterans experiencing PTSD, to be a viable protocol in V.A. hospitals across the nation. I train Veterans, Seniors and prisoners how to embrace Emotional Freedom Techniques in their daily lives. It’s a quick, powerful and fun technique to immediately decrease anxiety attacks, depression and even physical pain – on the spot !

    (I’m a disabled Vietnam Veteran – trainer in Mindfulness for 25+ years and volunteer at the DC Veteran’s Hospital and Fairfax County Adult Detention Center)

  7. donald david frisbie    

    its not difficult to think of how veterans who have seen the fierceness of battle to have mental problems. I hate war! I was only in the Cuban crssis and just missed Vietnam. I can hardly imagine what our soldiers went through. I wish we’d stop fighting these “limited” wars that just take the lives of our good young men for no reason! I don’t like to remember the atom bombs we dropped on japan………….but how fast did they come to the peace table?? if I can help a serviceman not to commit suicide, i’d like to know.

  8. Michael D.    

    What does “REACH” stand for? I bet <1 in 1,000 vets knows anything about REACH. It sounds like something only the top VA administrators like to talk about, costs lots of money, and rarely ever helps veterans. I served in the Army Reserves, & am retired.

  9. Kyle Mauna Loa Iokua Cummings-King    

    Aloha, I am a War Veteran who could help because I used to be Homicidal and Suicidal. I have treated myself for various diagnosed mental disorders due to the inability for the VA to provide adequate solutions and being denied benefits, treatments and medications for 6 years now. You have all my info, let me know if the VA is ready to do more than just their job because we gave more than just our freedom to the military, we have given our minds and lives, please do what needs to be done to get us not the help you think we need, ask us, what help can we help you find. Maybe then you’ll learn that if the Government breaks us, they don’t get to tell us how to heal. We obeyed orders and discharged duties which have left us to bleed in our minds even if we think everything is fine. As we keep bringing another mother’s and father’s child home broken from the rich man’s wars when will we stop this war machine? When will we first fix the broken ones before we send the next batch to be broken. God sees how you hide from Truth and Righteousness under the excuse, “I am just doing my job”. God needs us to do what is right, not your job. Let the Veterans smoke Marijuana, we sacrificed enough to earn that Right back. If not we will keep committing suicide in your parking lots as you snub your noses and say, “I’m just doing my job”. Say that at my funeral when my parents bury you because just, “doing your job”, isn’t working. Isn’t the definition of insanity to repeat the same behavior expecting different results, the Pharmaceuticals industry is insane and out of control and the pills only manage symptoms while leaving the root untouched. I hope you sleep well at night on your self righteous, sorry excuses for help, or so you call it. Shut up and listen to what we have to say, you don’t know what we are going through, shut up.

  10. Jo-Ann Moore    

    If you are serious about preventing Veterans suicide, you need to allow veterans with chronic pain to have their pain meds back. By all reports I’ve read, that would drastically reduce the number. Many veterans suffer from chronic pain, especially combat vets. Patients dealing with chronic pain had their quality of life greatly improved with opioids. Chronic pain patients are not drug addicts and rarely overdose. The drug overdoses occur from street drugs by people who want to get a high. Close the border, bust the pushers, and stop being cruel to people with pain who benefit greatly from these meds. This standard of refusing pain medication for any situation, including post op, is inhumane and needs to stop. DEA needs to stop going after pain doctors and focus on the criminals.

    1. SW    

      Jo-Ann, what suggestion do you have for veterans who have chronic pain but do not want to go on the opiods or any other major possibly addicting pain meds or go on meds long term and tear up their stomachs from those meds? My pain clinic after I had been in their IOP program basically REFUSED to help me any more, then they decided to placate me and offer me “mindfulness” exercises. I can tell you right now I am “mindful” of my pain because i feel it every single day and being “aware” that I hurt doesn’t stop it.

      IF the VA is truly serious about ending veteran suicides, they need to stop pushing veterans out by forcing them to check in to appointments on a machine or check their appointments on a computer and now, file for their travel on a computer. Veterans are HUMAN BEINGS who need human contact and interaction. The VA needs to CUT it’s prosthetic budget and put that money into human resources and HIRE people especially mental health providers to help these veterans. It’s not bad enough that veterans come back with the emotional injuries of war but add to that all lack of care from the government who proclaimed it would provide them with health care when they came back and that includes mental health care.

      Are there any support groups left for these veterans where they can talk to other veterans who have gone through the same or similar situations? Veterans commit suicide because they feel alone in what they are dealing with.

  11. Jack Duchow    

    Having had occasion to participate in the 5east “suicide prevention” program last year, I take exception to any caring comments about the suicide prevention help available at the 10th street VA hospital. Almost ended my life. My psychiatrist removed the bi-polar meds I was on for decades within 3 days, changed my long term bi-poker diagnosis to histrionics. I ended up being admitted to a Community Health hospital mental health unit. I was prescribed my original meds, Returning to the VA ($$$), another psychiatrist or two later, accepted that diagnosis so I could afford my scripts. Now, a nurse practitioner is my go-to. Just a Nam vet trying to stay. You see, I was in the 5 East before, it brought help. Various programs, activities, staff…now, but for a night nurse, students, and others they have no other place for…Never saw the Dr. Thanks for reading.

    1. SW    

      What is 5 east?

  12. Bob Moreno    

    Suicide is the ultimate desperation when we think that there is no solution for our situation. No matter how bad thing are, we can always find a solution if we look hard enough. The solution my not be what we want, but we can live with it until we find something else. Everything in life is temporary except death. Choosing death is taking a permanent solution for a temporary problem. There are many people willing to help. If we decide to accept help, we will find it.

  13. Divine Holiness    

    Wilkie & Reach are total crap.
    They will not help Christians.
    I’m 51 & have multiple herniated discs.
    I have begged for help for more than 25 yrs.

    1. SW    

      Amen. According to the VA I only have a chronic lumbo-sacral STRAIN, and I’ve had it for almost 30 years. True is I had to PAY OUT OF POCKET to see a doctor outside VA to find out that in fact I have four bulging discs. The VA provider I had REFUSED to do an MRI or CT scan, she was going to use my OLD x-rays to determine why I have back pain.

  14. Edward Fake    

    I worked for the VA from 1974 till 2010 as a vet rep on campus, field investigator and benefits counselor at a va hospital. Worked several cases where the vet improved and some where the vet died. All cases are different and need different types of assistance. As a vietnam vet, I was able to relate to many from WWI to the present. I would recommend recruiting combat vets to counsel other vets. Women who have been assaulted can relate better to other women in rape cases. I do not support putting women in combat areas. I have seen too many who have been taken advantage of, and “superior” officers and enlisted men often take advantage of their rank. While I applaud your efforts to assist more, I have seen the VA start out strong, and then fail to support programs after they are going. The vet centers and visor programs have been two of their successes. The benefit counselors in hospitals provide a great service, but are overworked (I was seeing 35 people a day, 300 phone calls a week, plus e-mails) when I retired in 2010. But the benefits counselors should be combat vets also, as they see everything from POWs to guys who ran over children with their trucks while in a war zone. Trust is needed for a vet to open up to a counselor. Combat personnel have a leg up from the start. But good morals and good work ethic are needed to survive the work load.

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