Veteran suicide is a significant problem in America. Much effort has gone into trying to reduce the number of suicides by military veterans without the degree of success that everyone would like to see. A bright light in the darkness of veteran suicide comes from the Denver and Colorado Springs area. Collaboration of local, state, and federal organizations resulted in the sharing and spread of veteran suicide prevention best practices. Early results are very positive and if this approach continues to show a dramatic reduction in veteran suicide, it will merit being used nationwide.
Suicide by Veterans Who Never Sought Help
Sixty percent of veterans who take their own lives have never sought out health care services with the Veterans Administration. A pilot program carried out by the University of Colorado and various other agencies attempted to determine what was working and what was not working in preventing veteran suicide. The study focuses on the Denver and Colorado Springs area. The end result appears to have been a significant reduction in veteran suicides is the area.
U of Colorado Veteran Suicide Pilot
Thirteen federal, state, and local agencies in the Colorado Springs and Denver areas were involved in the pilot study. They considered themselves to be a learning collective whose aim was to meet frequently and both share and implement best practices for preventing veteran suicide. These best practices included increasing the number of screenings for risk of suicide, increasing knowledge about how to get help and when to go by distributing materials in this regard, and engaging in staff training for suicide prevention practices.
Throughout the 18 months of the pilot study the learning collaborative met and interacted with 24,000 members of the community and more than 5,000 veterans. 92 new components where put in place for veteran suicide prevention. The bottom line result was that they had no reported suicides in the last year of the pilot study. Credit goes to the increased use of behavioral health services by veterans and families at risk of suicide. This increased use was credited to the increased level of cooperation among the various stakeholders in preventing veteran suicide and the sharing of veteran suicide best practices.
Lessons Learned in the U of Colorado Veteran Suicide Pilot Study
At lot is known about veteran suicide. Risk factors are clear and treatments and/or solutions are available for every one of them. A huge problem is that too many veterans do not know about available services or do not know how to get to them. While there are many organizations devoted to helping reduce veteran suicides they do not necessarily communicate. Thus the problems that they see in the system and the solutions that they discover are typically not passed on to everyone with a stake in reducing the risk of veteran suicides. What the study from the University of Colorado showed was that setting up a collaborative network of interested parties serves to spread knowledge of best practices and also what does not work all that well. The speed at which various agencies were able to implement best practices learned from others was greatly increased by having frequent communication throughout the group of all with a stake in reducing suicides by veterans.
Collaboration Versus Top Down Command Structure in Suicide Prevention
The military functions with a top down command structure. This approach spills over into how the government and VA approach veteran suicide. What the U of Colorado pilot study shows is that communication laterally among lower ranking organizations is important as well as communication up and down the chain of command. There is a definite risk of information getting lost or being modified beyond recognition when it is passed up the chain of command and back down with everyone along the way putting in their two cents worth. The researchers in the pilot study say that they believe their process can be replicated elsewhere with similarly good results. None of this is meant to replace the professional facilities available through the VA system or elsewhere but rather to connect those in need to services that help save lives.
What such an approach does is cut through the red tape of administrative policies that are often based on sound research but a lack of practical application and attention to ground level results.