How to #BeThere for veterans contemplating suicide

Jonathan Kaupanger
September 06, 2018 - 4:49 pm

Photo by VA

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September is Suicide Prevention Month.  On average, 20 veterans die by suicide each day, and 14 of those do not seek health care at VA.  So how does Veterans Affairs plan to reach those veterans in need?  Targeted support and your help to #BeThere.

This September VA is rolling out a new campaign titled #BeThere. The goal of the program is to simply, let veterans know you are there for them.

“It’s not just mental health providers that prevent suicide.  It’s not just hospital people, it’s you and me and everybody in our whole VA system and outside our VA system too,” explains VA’s Executive Director of Suicide Prevention, Dr. Keita Franklin. 

VA wants you to try one simple act of support and just #BeThere for a veteran in need.  This can be something simple like taking a veteran out for coffee or just asking where and when they served.  Anything to help build a connection is important. “One of the things we know for suicide risk is people feel isolated,” says Dr. Franklin.  “So when we can build connections and increase somebody’s social support, over the long haul it can actually save a life.”

Starting a conversation with someone in need can be difficult.  Knowing this, VA has additional tools to help you start that conversation at VA’s www.veteranscrisisline.net website.  You can email, text and even call someone with VA’s message generator so you’re sure you are using the right words to start that conversation.  You can also download the Suicide Prevention Month toolkit at the site.  This has newsletter content, posters and specific posts you can add to your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Photo by VA

VA is also switching up some aspects of their strategy. “As part of VA suicide prevention strategy, we deliver targeted support to different populations based on their suicide risk,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently on his blog.   

Originally VA would provide services to high-risk veterans who go to VA facilities.  This process, for the most part, worked for the 9 million veterans who receive care at VA but what about the 11 million who don’t go to the VA?  The VA is now working to target members of the latter group who are deemed at-risk of attempting suicide.  Those individuals are identified through a program called Reach Vet. This brand new program takes about 60 to 80 variables that are analyzed in a healthcare based algorithm.  Things like mental health and substance abuse issues, missed appointments and basic care history are assigned a number.  This gives VA a risk level and they can then reach out to each individual veteran who they believe is at-risk. 

A majority of those veterans live in rural areas of the country. 

“With rural veterans, we’ve got to make sure they have access to telehealth,” explains Dr. Franklin.  “We have to make sure we have transportation needs solved.  We have to make sure we’re putting outpost clinics close to them or that we’re getting mobile vet centers parked close to them.  We can’t just look at the data and say that we know rural veterans are at risk and say, okay.  We have to do more for them.”

There are many ways you can get help at VA.  Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone directly.  Go to www.veteranscrisisline.net/chat to have a confidential online chat session or you can send a text message to 838255 and be connected to a VA responder. 

            Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com