RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam and members of the General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus today pledged their support to address suicide among veterans and military service members. The group also announced the start of a public awareness campaign to better connect service members, veterans, and their families with community-based mental health resources.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 17 veterans nationwide die by suicide every day. In Virginia in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, 231 veterans died by suicide—21 percent of all suicide deaths that year.
“This is about supporting the men and women who have served our country,” said Governor Northam. “As a physician, a veteran, and a Virginian, I am committed to ensuring that the Commonwealth continues to address suicide and mental health issues in our military and veteran communities and ensure they get the resources and help they need and have earned.”
The Governor’s proposed biennial budget makes important investments in Virginia’s community services boards and the services they provide through the STEP-Virginia program. The Governor is requesting $177 million in funding for community-based services, which includes more than $64 million from the General Fund to continue implementing STEP-Virginia. The funding will enhance clinical care for military service members and veterans, and help community services boards provide more outpatient treatment, comprehensive crisis services, and peer support. These resources were recommended by the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide among Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families (Governor’s Challenge).
The General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus is a bicameral, bipartisan group of legislators who meet weekly during the legislative session to discuss policy issues and matters relating to the military and veterans communities in the Commonwealth.
“After receiving briefings from the Governor’s Challenge team, we, as leaders of the General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus, asked to do more,” said General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus co-chairs, Senators John Bell and Bryce Reeves and Delegates David Reid and Nick Freitas. “We view suicide as a critical public health issue and all of these deaths are of grave concern. We will be working to raise awareness of suicide prevention efforts and tactics with our colleagues and constituents. We want all Virginians to know #YouMatter and we will #BeThere to advocate and support our service members, veterans, and their families.”
In January 2019, Virginia was selected as one of the first seven states to participate in the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide among Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families, a pilot program initiated by the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The purpose of the Governor’s Challenge is to develop strategies and best practices to help implement the VA’s National Strategy for the Prevention of Veteran Suicide, which provides a framework for using a comprehensive public health approach to address this growing public health challenge among the veteran population.
The Virginia Governor’s Challenge team is co-chaired by the Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey, and is composed of federal, state, local, and non-governmental partners.
“We are grateful for the support of the General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus and their leadership in increasing awareness of the work being done by the Governor’s Challenge team,” said Secretary Hopkins. “Together, we will continue our commitment to reduce the number of preventable deaths relating to suicide among service members, veterans, and their families.”
“Suicide is a critical public health issue and we know that our veterans, active duty military, and their familiars are at high risk,” said Secretary Carey. “Awareness is necessary to overcome the stigma of seeking help. The work that our Governor’s Challenge team members are doing plays an important role in connecting veterans and their families with the resources they need.”
In the year since Virginia’s Governor’s Challenge team was established, it has taken several concrete actions which include:
- Providing training in military cultural competency to more than 500 mental health and primary care providers.
- The launch of a pilot program called Virginia Identify, Screen, and Refer to help healthcare providers better screen service members, veterans, and their families for suicide risk, and connect them to services that can help them.
- Working with the Virginia National Guard to develop a “warrior battle drill” that will help Guardsmen be able to identify signs of suicidal thoughts in their fellow soldiers or airmen, and take steps to get them help.
- Developing a Veterans Crisis Resource Card to help veterans find support quickly and easily.
The new coordinated public awareness campaign by the Governor’s Challenge team and the General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus members will focus informing Virginians about these and other resources for veterans, service members, and their families. The campaign will be conducted by caucus members in concert with state agencies participating in the Governor’s Challenge.
Military service members, veterans, and family members who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide—and those who know someone in crisis—can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (veterans and caregivers, press 1) for confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.