University of Rochester Medical Center

In New York State, veterans die by suicide at almost twice the rate of their civilian counterparts.

Particularly concerning is the use of firearms, which accounts for nearly half of deaths by suicide in the New York veteran community. In response, lethal means access counseling, which includes the safe storage of firearms, has emerged as a core strategy to address this issue. The Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM) training is the gold standard for lethal means access counseling. CALM is the only training evaluated by peer-reviewed research that shows its efficacy and has been delivered to more than 25,000 clinicians across the country. New York State counties are using a handful of complementary suicide prevention and lethal means access programs, including CALM. Given the crucial role that family members play in supporting people at risk for suicide, NYHealth has invested in adapting and tailoring the CALM training to be used by non-clinicians, as well. In 2023, NYHealth awarded the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) a grant to expand the use of CALM for family members and community providers.

Under this grant, URMC will monitor and assess training needs, create a community toolkit, and provide technical assistance to high-need communities. It will work with a subset of 26 counties that are implementing CALM to assess which complementary programs fit their needs and preferences. In each county, URMC will build connections with stakeholders; conduct interviews and surveys to assess reach, gaps, and opportunities; and determine how different suicide prevention programs can fit simultaneously. It will consolidate feedback and data to provide an individualized assessment to each county. In addition, URMC will develop a community toolkit that provides evidence-based suicide prevention and lethal means access training; recommendations for workshop selection, implementation, and coordination; and considerations based on veteran community. Using this toolkit, URMC will partner with networks in three high-need communities to deliver and assess tailored workshops. Through these workshops, it will identify the trainings, including CALM, that best meet veteran communities’ needs. With its partners, URMC will disseminate the toolkit and training materials to all county suicide prevention coalitions, the New York State Department of Veterans’ Services, and others focused on veteran suicide prevention.

Oneida County Department of Mental Health

Veterans in New York die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of civilians.

Compounding these challenges is a shortage of mental health providers equipped to treat veterans. In response, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which use approaches such as reducing access to lethal means, increasing social connectivity, and expanding access to mental health treatment. Between 2018 and 2020, suicide rates stabilized, but newly released data show warning signs that rates are increasing again. Continued and more intensive action and resources are needed to build on the momentum of successful suicide prevention efforts. To address this need, VA awarded $174 million in federal grant dollars to 250 community-based organizations to implement suicide prevention services, 5 of which are in New York State. However, these funds cannot be used for outreach and community engagement activities or to provide services to veterans who are (1) ineligible for VA care or (2) deemed anything other than “high risk” for suicide. To maximize the full potential of the federal investment, in 2022, NYHealth awarded a grant to one of the federal funding recipients, Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY (VOC), to conduct outreach to veterans in Western New York. The success of VOC’s outreach efforts led NYHealth to further invest in the remaining four New York State grantees. In 2023, NYHealth awarded a grant to the Oneida County Department of Mental Health to expand access to suicide prevention services by increasing outreach to and engagement with veterans in Central New York. NYHealth is also supporting complementary projects across New York State with Homeward Bound USA, Mental Health America of Dutchess County, and Black Veterans for Social Justice.

Under this grant, the Oneida County Department of Mental Health will increase outreach to identify veterans at risk of suicide—including younger veterans, women, and those ineligible for VA services—through technology, in-person events, and social media. It will also build strategic partnerships with local organizations, including county veterans service officers, local New York State suicide prevention coordinators, leaders in tribal communities, veterans service organizations, and other mental health providers. The Oneida County Department of Mental Health will screen veterans to determine their risk for suicide, service needs, and VA eligibility, connecting them to suicide prevention services as needed. Additionally, it will provide case management services to connect veterans with community-based or VA health services and offer referrals to wraparound services. The Oneida County Department of Mental Health will help eligible veterans access benefits such as supportive housing, GI Bill education assistance, and disability compensation. It will also share demographic and screening information with partners and disseminate reports to identify areas for improvement and promising practices that can be replicated. Lastly, the VA and State government stakeholders will partner with the Oneida County Department of Mental Health to address challenges with lags in suicide data to evaluate success of on-the-ground efforts and assess annual reductions in suicide rates.

Mental Health America of Dutchess County

Veterans in New York die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of civilians.

Compounding these challenges is a shortage of mental health providers equipped to treat veterans. In response, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which use approaches such as reducing access to lethal means, increasing social connectivity, and expanding access to mental health treatment. Between 2018 and 2020, suicide rates stabilized, but newly released data show warning signs that rates are increasing again. Continued and more intensive action and resources are needed to build on the momentum of successful suicide prevention efforts. To address this need, VA awarded $174 million in federal grant dollars to 250 community-based organizations to implement suicide prevention services, 5 of which are in New York State. However, these funds cannot be used for outreach and community engagement activities or to provide services to veterans who are (1) ineligible for VA care or (2) deemed anything other than “high risk” for suicide. To maximize the full potential of the federal investment, in 2022, NYHealth awarded a grant to one of the federal funding recipients, Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY (VOC), to conduct outreach to veterans in Western New York. The success of VOC’s outreach efforts led NYHealth to further invest in the remaining four New York State grantees. In 2023, NYHealth awarded a grant to Mental Health America of Dutchess County (MHADC) to expand access to suicide prevention services by increasing outreach to and engagement with veterans in the Hudson Valley. NYHealth is also supporting complementary projects across New York State with Homeward Bound USA, Black Veterans for Social Justice, and the Oneida County Department of Mental Health.

Under this grant, MHADC will increase outreach to identify veterans at risk of suicide—including younger veterans, women, and those ineligible for VA services—through technology, in-person events, and social media. It will also build strategic partnerships with local organizations, including county veterans service officers, local New York State suicide prevention coordinators, leaders in tribal communities, veterans service organizations, and other mental health providers. MHADC will screen veterans to determine their risk for suicide, service needs, and VA eligibility, connecting them to suicide prevention services as needed. Additionally, it will provide case management services to connect veterans with community-based or VA health services and offer referrals to wraparound services. MHADC will help eligible veterans access benefits such as supportive housing, GI Bill education assistance, and disability compensation. It will also share demographic and screening information with partners and disseminate reports to identify areas for improvement and promising practices that can be replicated. Lastly, the VA and State government stakeholders will partner with MHADC to address challenges with lags in suicide data to evaluate success of on-the-ground efforts and assess annual reductions in suicide rates.

Homeward Bound USA, aka Homeward Bound Adirondacks

Veterans in New York die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of civilians.

Compounding these challenges is a shortage of mental health providers equipped to treat veterans. In response, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which use approaches such as reducing access to lethal means, increasing social connectivity, and expanding access to mental health treatment. Between 2018 and 2020, suicide rates stabilized, but newly released data show warning signs that rates are increasing again. Continued and more intensive action and resources are needed to build on the momentum of successful suicide prevention efforts. To address this need, VA awarded $174 million in federal grant dollars to 250 community-based organizations to implement suicide prevention services, 5 of which are in New York State. However, these funds cannot be used for outreach and community engagement activities or to provide services to veterans who are (1) ineligible for VA care or (2) deemed anything other than “high risk” for suicide. To maximize the full potential of the federal investment, in 2022, NYHealth awarded a grant to one of the federal funding recipients, Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY (VOC), to conduct outreach to veterans in Western New York. The success of VOC’s outreach efforts led NYHealth to further invest in the remaining four New York State grantees. In 2023, NYHealth awarded a grant to Homeward Bound Adirondacks (HBA) to expand access to suicide prevention services by increasing outreach to and engagement with veterans in the North Country. NYHealth is also supporting complementary projects across New York State with Black Veterans for Social Justice, Mental Health America of Dutchess County, and the Oneida County Department of Mental Health.

Under this grant, HBA will increase outreach to identify veterans at risk of suicide—including younger veterans, women, and those ineligible for VA services—through technology, in-person events, and social media. It will also build strategic partnerships with local organizations, including county veterans service officers, local New York State suicide prevention coordinators, leaders in tribal communities, veterans service organizations, and other mental health providers. HBA will screen veterans to determine their risk for suicide, service needs, and VA eligibility, connecting them to suicide prevention services as needed. Additionally, it will provide case management services to connect veterans with community-based or VA health services and offer referrals to wraparound services. HBA will help eligible veterans access benefits such as supportive housing, GI Bill education assistance, and disability compensation. It will also share demographic and screening information with partners and disseminate reports to identify areas for improvement and promising practices that can be replicated. Lastly, the VA and State government stakeholders will partner with HBA to address challenges with lags in suicide data to evaluate success of on-the-ground efforts and assess annual reductions in suicide rates.

Black Veterans for Social Justice

Veterans in New York die by suicide at nearly twice the rate of civilians.

Compounding these challenges is a shortage of mental health providers equipped to treat veterans. In response, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which use approaches such as reducing access to lethal means, increasing social connectivity, and expanding access to mental health treatment. Between 2018 and 2020, suicide rates stabilized, but newly released data show warning signs that rates are increasing again. Continued and more intensive action and resources are needed to build on the momentum of successful suicide prevention efforts. To address this need, VA awarded $174 million in federal grant dollars to 250 community-based organizations to implement suicide prevention services, 5 of which are in New York State. However, these funds cannot be used for outreach and community engagement activities or to provide services to veterans who are (1) ineligible for VA care or (2) deemed anything other than “high risk” for suicide. To maximize the full potential of the federal investment, in 2022, NYHealth awarded a grant to one of the federal funding recipients, Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY (VOC), to conduct outreach to veterans in Western New York. The success of VOC’s outreach efforts led NYHealth to further invest in the remaining four New York State grantees. In 2023, NYHealth awarded a grant to Black Veterans for Social Justice (BVSJ) to expand access to suicide prevention services by increasing outreach to and engagement with veterans in New York City. NYHealth is also supporting complementary projects across New York State with Homeward Bound USA, Mental Health America of Dutchess County, and the Oneida County Department of Mental Health.

Under this grant, BVSJ will increase outreach to identify veterans at risk of suicide—including younger veterans, women, and those ineligible for VA services—through technology, in-person events, and social media. It will also build strategic partnerships with local organizations, including county veterans service officers, local New York State suicide prevention coordinators, leaders in tribal communities, veterans service organizations, and other mental health providers. BVSJ will screen veterans to determine their risk for suicide, service needs, and VA eligibility, connecting them to suicide prevention services as needed. Additionally, it will provide case management services to connect veterans with community-based or VA health services and offer referrals to wraparound services. BVSJ will help eligible veterans access benefits such as supportive housing, GI Bill education assistance, and disability compensation. It will also share demographic and screening information with partners and disseminate reports to identify areas for improvement and promising practices that can be replicated. Lastly, the VA and State government stakeholders will partner with BVSJ to address challenges with lags in suicide data to evaluate success of on-the-ground efforts and assess annual reductions in suicide rates.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

During their time in service, more than half of all military veterans were likely exposed to toxic chemicals and other airborne hazards, including burn pits with open-air combustion of waste.

Exposure has led to a host of health complications including respiratory illnesses, cancer, other chronic illnesses, and mental health challenges. Responding to veterans’ advocacy efforts, the federal government recently enacted legislation to address these issues. The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act) expands eligibility for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care to any veteran with toxic exposure. A complementary policy allows every veteran, regardless of their previous VA eligibility, to get access to VA or private care for acute suicidal crises. Together, these policies represent one of the largest benefits expansions in VA history. However, many veterans, health care providers, local government officials, and veterans service organizations are unaware of the expansion and/or how to access benefits. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) a grant to implement complementary training and outreach efforts across New York State to maximize the potential of these new health benefits. 

Under this grant, IAVA will develop and deploy a comprehensive training about the PACT Act that addresses eligibility, health and mental health service coverage, enrollment options, and complementary community-based services. IAVA will create training modules, informed by focus groups with veterans and veteran-serving organizations to ensure the content is relevant. Additionally, IAVA will work with New York State Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) to identify State-specific information and programs to integrate in the training. It will also cover relevant State-sponsored programs for veterans, including suicide prevention services, programs to address food insecurity, and legal resources. IAVA will conduct up to five in-person tailored trainings for all State DVS Veterans Benefits Advisors, other veteran-serving organizations, and New York Cares. It will also conduct targeted outreach to veterans across the State and develop an outreach script for New York Cares volunteers who make calls to veterans in New York City. Ongoing technical assistance will be provided to staff and volunteers. To evaluate reach, IAVA will work with State DVS to track the number of referrals to Benefits Advisors for enrollment assistance. 

NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with a grant to New York Cares 

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