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Faith Based Organizations and Suicide

Veterans, specifically older Veterans, can be at risk for suicide for a variety of reasons. The Samuel S. Stratton VA Medical Center (Stratton VAMC) in Albany, New York recognized the opportunity to reach out to faith-based organizations because their members are well-positioned to recognize older Veterans at risk for suicide. This project was recognized as a Diffusion of Excellence Gold Status Best Practice in 2017 following a VA Shark Tank Competition.

Among the reasons older Veterans are especially at risk for suicide are stress and lingering effects from their military service. Many also have underlying mental health concerns, often aggravated by their military service and advanced age, that increase their risk.

To combat this, the Stratton VAMC develops partnerships with local faith-based communities and the county Veterans Service Agency in Ulster County, New York. Faith-based leaders are taught to recognize the warning signs of mental health concerns, especially those of suicide, and to learn how to help Veterans and others in crisis by providing them with support and referral. They also learn about the importance of gun safety and are urged to widely disseminate gun locks that VA provides.

Stratton VAMC's suicide prevention coordinator and VA chaplain invite faith-based organization leaders to a training session on spirituality and mental health in high-risk counties. This training event includes a 45-minute video on how to recognize warning signs of suicide and how to engage Veterans in a discussion on their mental health. Participants receive copies of the video to show their community members.

The implementation of this faith-based outreach initiative started in February 2017 in Ulster County, New York and has since been extended to Warren, Washington, Columbia and Greene counties. The Stratton VAMC is now working with the Ann Arbor, Salt Lake City and Fargo VAMCs, expanding implementation to high-risk populations at those locations.

Impact on Veterans

This gold status practice enhances VA's ability to partner with community-based organizations in the effort to prevent Veteran suicide and helps direct Veterans and their families to the right resources to help them get help.