42 States, 1 US Territory Pledge to Help Veterans at Risk of Suicide as Part of ‘President’s Roadmap’

September 18, 2020 Updated: September 18, 2020

A proclamation has been signed by 42 states and one U.S. territory pledging to prioritize suicide prevention among U.S. veterans and the nation’s population at large.

The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the action on Sept. 10.

“With the commitment of our nation’s governors, this undertaking has moved beyond an idea to reality,” VA secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press statement, “as it is only viable when governors enlist the full authority and backing of their state to combat this crisis.”

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The action will involve 42 states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands promoting the VA’s REACH campaign, a public health initiative that encourages suicidal individuals to seek help, as well as outside parties to look out for vulnerable individuals.

PREVENTS representatives are hoping to homogenize the approach to suicide prevention across all 50 states by meeting with state and community leaders, enlisting state and federal government involvement, and making sure that word gets out before the suicide prevention drive’s proposed end date of March 2022.

“September is National Suicide Prevention Month,” said Wilkie, “and through the outpouring of support echoed by governors issuing state proclamations, their efforts assist with meeting the requirements of the president’s White House Task Force for PREVENTS.”

The President’s Roadmap, Wilkie explained, is offering an “essential, collaborative forum” for addressing the ongoing crisis of suicide among American citizens, with a special focus on U.S. veterans.

PREVENTS has been a work in progress since Executive Order 13861 was issued on March 5, 2019. Its holistic approach includes a national public health campaign, a focus on community integration, ongoing research, and practical strategies for better health and well-being among all American citizens.

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Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 48,344 Americans died by suicide in 2018, while there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts the same year.

White males are the most likely demographic to commit suicide, while other at-risk communities include veterans, first responders, Native Americans, Alaskan natives, young adults, LGBTQ persons, the bereaved, and disaster survivors, according to research from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

To raise awareness, PREVENTS has so far held in-person meetings in Arizona, California, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas. It has met with state representatives in Indiana and Oklahoma virtually, and is working with veterans’ organizations, military organizations, business leaders, schools and universities, and faith-based communities to spread its message further.

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“Collaborating with state and community leaders to advance the mission of suicide prevention for Veterans and all Americans is imperative,” PREVENTS Executive Director Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen explained on Sept. 10.

“As we move forward to change the culture around mental health in general and suicide in particular,” Dahlen added, “we will continue to elevate and amplify the great work our states are already doing, as we leverage lessons learned and best practices to accelerate our efforts to heal families and save lives.”

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