Increasing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health and Social Supports
December 13, 2021
The number of veteran suicide deaths throughout the country has risen steadily since 2001, with an average of 17 veterans dying by suicide each day.
On top of these sobering suicide rates, overall veteran mortality rates have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the second half of 2021 was an exceptionally difficult and traumatic period for the post-9/11 generation of veterans: the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 was triggering for many and came on the heels of a violent and chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. After the Taliban takeover, 90% of Afghanistan war veterans with a history of mental illness experienced new or worsening mental health symptoms, including depression and thoughts of suicide. Access to mental health care and social support are essential elements of an evidence-based suicide prevention approach. In 2021, NYHealth awarded a grant to Western New York Heroes (WNY Heroes), as part of a larger project with the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone, New York Cares, and Veterans Outreach Center, to provide community-based mental health and peer support, as well as screenings and support service referrals to veterans across New York State.
Under this grant, WNY Heroes expanded the reach of its peer support programs by conducting outreach to recruit and engage 400 veterans to participate in its flagship programs, Operation B.O.O.T.S. and Heroes Bridge. These programs addressed upstream factors that could lead to suicide, such as social isolation and financial insecurity. WNY Heroes also made referrals to partner organizations for support services and tracked program participation.