The VA’s suicide prevention strategy will fail
By: Sean Gilfillan
September 17, 2019
Instead of relying on others, the VA’s strategy should be to replicate the peer, community and institutional support veterans had while they were in the military.
Hawaii-based service members from every branch of service, Department of Defense personnel, and military and DoD families form a human chain in the shape of a yellow suicide awareness ribbon on Sept. 5, 2018, in support of National Suicide Awareness Month at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Corwin Colbert/Navy)The suicide rate for young adults was 17 per 100,000 population in 2017, while the suicide rate for veterans 18-39 is over 50 per 100,000.
The VA strategy says, “Suicide prevention is VA’s highest priority.” If that were true, the VA would not outsource the solution to local, community-based organizations. In the VA’s National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, there are four critical protective factors that help offset risk factors.
Two clinical solutions:
1) Positive coping skills, and
2) Access to mental health care; and two non-clinical solutions:
3) Feeling connected to other people, and
4) Having reasons for living or a sense of purpose in life.
The VA’s strategy has a “lead from behind” approach for the latter two. We give the VA $220.2 billion per year to take care of our 20 million veterans. Yet, the VA wants to outsource outreach to veteran service organizations (VSOs), nonprofits, local businesses and governments to address the two non-clinical factors. While VSOs advocate on behalf of all veterans, they are not in touch with all veterans.
Given member overlap and passive membership, basic math dictates that the combined marketing reach of the entire VSO community is estimated to be 5-10 percent of the total.
Even so, this business-to-business (B2B) (organization to organization) approach is not the right strategy for an organization with individual customers.
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