Expanding Suicide Prevention Services to Veterans Across New York
September 22, 2023
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.