On November 2nd and 3rd, the New York Health Foundation (NYHealth) hosted a virtual conference with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Veterans and their Families Technical Assistance Center, and the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services on veteran suicide prevention efforts and the impact of The Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Veteran Suicide in New York State.

Our nation has been in the midst of a suicide epidemic—one that has been growing in size for more than 20 years—and the veteran community has been one of the hardest hit. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) teamed up with SAMHSA to create The Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Veteran Suicide, an initiative that combines federal efforts with those of local leaders. The Governor’s Challenge is underway in 35 states—including New York—and has sought to apply a public health approach to developing and implementing a strategy for preventing veteran suicide.

Panelists provided insights on the progress made throughout New York; shared best practices for discussing suicide with loved ones; highlighted services aimed at identifying and addressing the needs of high-risk populations; and identified other innovative approaches to preventing veteran suicide.

On November 2nd, David Sandman, Ph.D., President and CEO, NYHealth, offered opening remarks, highlighting policy work by the Foundation related to veterans and efforts by grantee partners to address veterans’ mental health and suicide.

The keynote speaker was Matthew A. Miller, Ph.D., M.P.H., Executive Director, VA Suicide Prevention; Acting Executive Director, PREVENTS, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs. In his keynote, Dr. Miller shared an overview of the Governor’s Challenge and set the stage for the conference’s ensuing panels.

Following the keynote, Derek Coy, Veterans’ Health Officer, NYHealth, moderated the first panel, “A Tough Conversation: Dispelling myths and sharing best practices for talking about suicide.” Panelists were:

  • Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, Ph.D., Founder and Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project at Columbia University
  • Heather Kelly, Ph.D., Professional Staff Member, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Majority
  • Patrice Sullivan, Manager, Community Resources, Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS); Surviving significant other of Marine Veteran Sergeant Thomas J. Donaldson

Duane France, Co-Director, SAMHSA’s SMVF TA Center, moderated the second panel, “The Governor’s Challenge and New York State: An overview, update, and look ahead.” Panelists were:

  • Michelle Cleary, Behavioral Health and Addiction Prevention Advocate
  • Joe Geraci, Ph.D., LMHC, Co-Director, Transitioning Servicemember/Veteran and Suicide Prevention Center (TASC), VA
  • Marianne Goodman, M.D., Director, Suicide Prevention and Care Center, James J. Peters Bronx VA Medical Center

Derek Coy opened the second day of the conference, reflecting on the previous day’s key takeaways, sharing his own experiences as a veteran, and offering a look ahead to the next panels.

Andrea Goldstein, Navy Veteran and National Security Professional, then moderated the panel, “High-risk Populations: Identifying and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable.” Panelists were:

  • Richard Brookshire, Co-Founder and Board Chair, Black Veterans Project
  • Wendy McClinton, President/CEO, Black Veterans for Social Justice
  • Ashton Stewart, Manager, SAGEVets Program, SAGE

Benjamin Pomerance, Esq., Deputy Director for Program Development, New York State Division of Veterans’ Services, moderated the final panel, “Legal Services and Suicide Prevention: Innovative approaches beyond the clinical environment.” Panelists were:

  • Coco Culhane, Executive Director, Veteran Advocacy Project
  • Pete Kempner, J.D., Legal Director, Volunteers of Legal Service; Founder of New York Law School’s Veterans Justice Clinic
  • Beth Kubala, Executive Director, Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic, Syracuse University

Related Conference Resources and Links:

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there is always help out there. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 800-273-8255. Veterans can select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops, or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.






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