New York State Defenders Association

Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) were founded in Buffalo, New York, in 2008 as a type of problem-solving court that provides treatment as an alternative to incarceration for eligible veterans with mental health or substance use disorders. VTCs offer a lifeline for veterans encountering the criminal justice system, but access to these courts was not historically universal across New York State. A law enacted in 2021 now authorizes the transfer of cases from jurisdictions without VTCs to adjacent counties that have them, but further work is needed to realize the full potential of the policy change. In 2024, NYHealth awarded the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) to work with both existing and new VTC judges and court professionals to facilitate successful case transfers. NYHealth also awarded a complementary grant to the Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic (VLC) at Syracuse University’s College of Law to provide comprehensive legal services to VTC participants in New York State to increase their likelihood of success in treatment.

Under this grant, NYSDA will build on its extensive training network of defense attorneys, judges, and other legal professionals. It will engage six counties with a VTC and multiple contiguous counties without a VTC to facilitate the robust implementation of the transfer policy and overcome barriers. NYSDA will work to ensure smooth and legally sound case transfers, including documentation and reporting in court systems, and help judges, defense attorneys, court staff, and prosecutors who need support prior to, during, and after case transfer proceedings.

 

Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic

Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) were founded in Buffalo, New York, in 2008 as a type of problem-solving court that provides treatment as an alternative to incarceration for eligible veterans with mental health or substance use disorders. VTCs offer a lifeline for veterans encountering the criminal justice system, but access to these courts was not historically universal across New York State. A law enacted in 2021 now authorizes the transfer of cases from jurisdictions without VTCs to adjacent counties that have them, but In 2024, NYHealth awarded the Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic (VLC) at Syracuse University’s College of Law a grant to provide comprehensive legal services to VTC participants in New York State to increase their likelihood of success in treatment. NYHealth also awarded a complementary grant to the New York State Defenders Association to work with existing and new VTC judges and court professionals to facilitate successful case transfers.

Under this grant, the VLC will leverage a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that VTC participants have the legal services they need to support their recovery efforts. The VLC will conduct outreach to and coordinate with VTCs to incorporate legal services—covering areas such as government benefits, family law, housing, and debt management—into their treatment programs. It will also create a blueprint and provide support to other legal clinics in New York about how to replicate this model.

 

 

Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration

New York State is home to nearly 600,000 military veterans and welcomes an additional 4,000 each year who are transitioning from active duty into civilian life.

For new veterans, the transition from military service to civilian life can be an extra challenge, as they may also face relocation and a perceived loss of purpose. Despite challenges, veterans often do not ask for help until a crisis and may be reluctant to speak with someone they believe would not understand their circumstances; they can feel more comfortable opening up to a fellow veteran. That dynamic makes peer-to-peer programs an effective approach; peers are equipped to offer practical skills and information, as well as shared experience, social connection, and hope. In New York State, the most widespread peer mentor program for veterans is the State’s flagship Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program; it reduces isolation, increases social connectivity, and connects veterans with community-based resources. In 2022, the State roughly tripled the overall program budget and paved the way for the program to expand statewide. In 2024, NYHealth awarded the Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration (CVR) a grant to maximize the impact of the State’s investment, expand high-quality veterans’ peer-to-peer services, and formalize a statewide peer mentor coalition to spread best practices and educate policymakers about ways to sustain and spread effective programs. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with Clear Path for Veterans.

Under this grant, CVR will formalize its “New York State Dwyer Coalition”, comprising more than 100 peer mentor programs, providers, and other stakeholders. It will host coalition meetings to identify regional goals and define a shared advocacy agenda; leverage federal, State, and local funding opportunities; educate members about best practices for communicating with policymakers; and share tools and resources for peer mentors. CVR will partner with Clear Path to raise awareness about evaluation findings and technical assistance opportunities. It will also create an online directory for local Dwyer Program providers to access centralized information. CVR will develop a shared policy agenda and action plan based on input from members, veteran service organizations, and Clear Path’s evaluation. It will also partner with Clear Path to educate policymakers about ways to strengthen the program through future policy and regulatory changes.  

Clear Path for Veterans

New York State is home to nearly 600,000 military veterans and welcomes an additional 4,000 each year who are transitioning from active duty into civilian life.

For new veterans, the transition from military service to civilian life can be an extra challenge, as they may also face relocation and a perceived loss of purpose. Despite challenges, veterans often do not ask for help until a crisis and may be reluctant to speak with someone they believe would not understand their circumstances; they can feel more comfortable opening up to a fellow veteran. That dynamic makes peer-to-peer programs an effective approach; peers are equipped to offer practical skills and information, as well as shared experience, social connection, and hope. In New York State, the most widespread peer mentor program for veterans is the State’s flagship Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program; it reduces isolation, increases social connectivity, and connects veterans with community-based resources. In 2022, the State roughly tripled the overall program budget and paved the way for the program to expand statewide. In 2024, NYHealth awarded Clear Path for Veterans a grant to maximize the impact of the State’s investment, expand high-quality veterans’ peer-to-peer services, and formalize a statewide peer mentor coalition to spread best practices and educate policymakers about ways to sustain and spread effective programs. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with the Hudson Valley National Center for Veteran Reintegration.

Under this grant, Clear Path will build on its expertise as one of the State’s top-performing providers of the Dwyer Program across seven Central New York counties. It will conduct outreach to engage veterans in its newly launched mobile peer mentor program, reaching 15 additional counties. Clear Path will also use its mobile van to reach veterans in a variety of community settings to connect them with peer support and resources. It will identify and partner with a New York State academic institution to further evaluate its peer mentor services, with a focus on identifying replicable program elements and tactics that other peer mentor programs can adopt. Clear Path will also partner with the “New York State Dwyer Coalition” to compile and disseminate best practices and evaluation results with stakeholders. It will provide technical assistance and training to peer mentor providers who are interested in starting a new program or strengthening existing services, covering topics such as learning how to apply for State Dwyer funding; ways to standardize program elements and metrics; targeted outreach; and mentor/mentee recruitment and matching. 

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.

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