September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. VA is encouraging families and friends to reach out and provide support this month—and every month—to the Veterans in their lives. Suicide prevention is the top clinical priority for VA. As a result, VA is working closely with governmental organizations and private-sector partners to ensure Veterans receive the support they need.
The Veteran’s Health Administration’s (VHA) Office of Community Engagement (OCE) plays a key role in these efforts by facilitating, coordinating, and maintaining non-monetary partnerships that benefit Veterans everywhere.
OCE has also been instrumental in the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). On March 5, 2019, the President signed Executive Order 13861, establishing PREVENTS. It created an inter-agency task force. It will develop and implement a comprehensive roadmap to change how the nation treats mental health and understands suicide prevention.
Everyone has a role to play
“Our belief is that everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention. That our efforts need to encompass everyone,” said Dr. Weistreich, nurse executive for OCE. “By targeting everyone through a public health approach, we will be able to positively influence the suicide risk for Veterans.”
Some VA partnerships coordinated by OCE have a clear connection to improving access to suicide prevention services. OnStar’s emergency services will connect Veterans to VA’s Veterans Crisis Line around the clock.
Many partnerships reduce the risk of suicide among Veterans by supporting the public health approach, offering small scale clinical innovations, or by improving access to social determinants of health (SDOH).
SDOH are conditions in the environments in which Veterans live, learn, work, play, worship and age. They affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Examples of SDOH are access to transportation, food security and employment. Some OCE-supported partnerships that support the SDOH and thereby decrease suicide risk are:
- MAZON, which promotes food security for Veterans;
- Pet Partners, which enables therapy animal visits to decrease social isolation; and
- Y-USA, which offers health services to better connect Veterans to their communities and provide a social environment for them to be active.
Reaching Veterans not enrolled in VA care
Dr. Weistreich also added that, “Many OCE partnerships are open to all Veterans, regardless of their VHA enrollment status. This means these partnerships have a greater chance of reaching a Veteran who may not be receiving care from VA. This makes the suicide prevention components of these partnerships even more important.”
According to VA’s 2019 Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, there are many Veterans who do not use VA services. It also says most Veteran suicides occur among Veterans who have not recently engaged in VA services.
To learn more about how OCE builds effective partnerships across VA to support Veterans or inquire about starting a partnership, visit: www.va.gov/healthpartnerships.
Mikala Jamison is a content writer and senior account executive for DCG Communications.