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A new VA initiative aims to reduce veteran suicide and seeks to build ties in Wyoming

Bob Beck
Wyoming Public Radio
The Sheridan VA facility.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced the launch ofMission Daybreak, an initiative aimed at reducingveteran suicide. The10-year,$20 million program is seeking to accomplish this objective through a comprehensive, public health approach that integrates researchers, clinicians, health innovators, veterans, and service members.

“To end Veteran suicide, we need to use every tool available,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “In the most recent National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report more than 45,000 American adults died by suicide — including 6,261 Veterans. That’s why Mission Daybreak is fostering solutions across a broad spectrum of focus areas to combat this preventable problem.”

TheSheridan VA facility, which covers the majority of Wyoming through severaloutpatient clinics, is seeking to implement the initiative by building connections with outside providers.

“It’s really kind of like [a] think tank idea, [if] you want folks who maybe don't already serve Veterans or don’t already work in the VA system who have things that their organizations already do, or their communities already do that they've seen work,” said Beth Martini, Associate Chief of Staff of Mental Health Services for the Sheridan VA. “The VA is asking folks to put those ideas out there and have a brainstorming session together to see if those systems can be repeated in the VA or in other communities to make a difference.”

A range of mental health services is currently provided at the Sheridan facility, which includes treatment programs aimed at veterans with different needs.

“We have programs aimed specifically at PTSD, we have programs aimed to treat folks with serious mental illness, we have substance abuse programming,” Martini explained. “And then we do have domiciliary care for homeless veterans, which is a program that's a vocational program. The goal really in that program is to get folks reintegrated back into their community through vocational efforts.”

The number of Veterans taking advantage of mental health services is on the rise, which include inpatient and outpatient care. The options for receiving mental health treatment have also been valuable to Vets, who can use their computers or phones for telehealth services.

“By the day, I think that our referrals this year are substantially more than they had been in previous years, which, for us, is really great,” she said. “We want people to reach out, we want them to seek help.”

The Sheridan VA can move a patient to other levels of care in their system if necessary. This includes screening each veteran for suicidal risk, which includes completing a suicidal risk assessment if they report a certain risk level.

“When you look at mainstream media, and then social media, the amount of acknowledgement of mental health being a part of overall health is so significantly better than it used to be,” Martini said. “I really do think that people are starting to talk about uncomfortable things, people are starting to acknowledge that mental health is a part of health. I think that there has been a huge shift in the right direction of de-stigmatizing therapy, of de-stigmatizing asking for help, and I hope that the next step in that is de-stigmatizing asking people if they're okay.”

Beginning July 16, each state mustactivate 988, to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, for mental health crises. This will include the option forVeterans to be connected with a crisis call center.

Interested groups and organizations have until July 8 tosubmit their proposals for Mission Daybreak. Winners will be announced in Aug. and will move on to thesecond phase of the initiative.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Achat option is also available to a qualified crisis counselor in your area. If you or someone is in immediate danger, call 911 for the quickest response.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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