Building Evaluation Capacity to Reduce Veteran Suicide Rates


Veterans Day is a time for us to honor those who have served and protected the United States. Part of that recognition is understanding and providing support for the unique challenges that veterans and military families face. Suicide remains one of the most serious public health issues for veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently released the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report listing suicide as the second leading cause of death among veterans under age 45.  

Veteran serving organizations (VSOs) provide an array of services for veterans and military families. Many of these programs and services focus on strengthening economic support and access to care, enhancing coping and problem-solving skills and increasing the social connectedness of veterans and military families. The hard work of VSOs plays an important role in reducing risk factors for suicide, such as isolation, financial instability, depression and/or chronic pain. 

In 2018, the CDC Foundation was awarded a federal grant to work on the Veteran Suicide Prevention Evaluation (VSPE) Demonstration Project in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). During the first three years of the project, over $650,000 in grant funding was provided to 14 VSOs. In years four and five of the project there have been additional grant recipients and funding made available. 

The grants are provided to local, state and national-level VSOs across the U.S. The CDC Foundation and CDC provide individualized technical assistance for evaluation as well as tools and resources for conducting evaluation projects. The VSPE capacity building approach also emphasizes the importance of partnership and community engagement strategies for sustainable program evaluation.

An evaluation on the first three years (2018–2021) of the VSPE project showed positive impacts on the participating VSOs and their suicide prevention programs. Through feedback surveys and in-depth interviews, VSO participants shared that the technical assistance helped them strategically build evaluation capacity into their organizations and that the evaluation and engagement strategies identified gaps in who they are reaching and how they can better and more broadly serve veterans. 

“We had to look at more than total number served,” a year 2 grant recipient said. “We took the findings to understand how we interact with our warriors and took action to modify a lot of our processes...[This] exponentially improved our understanding of the veterans and how to best support them.” 

The collaborative learning opportunities throughout the program allowed participants to discuss approaches for suicide prevention and community engagement, and evaluation. Grant recipients also shared that the project strengthened their relationship building and partnerships with other organizations in the veteran suicide prevention space, resulting in more responsive programming. Most notably, grant recipients reported increased credibility and visibility as leaders in veteran suicide prevention, ultimately resulting in increased funding to support their programs. 

“Last year we were able to raise more than we had in the three years prior combined, and we believe that it's a direct result of this project,” said another year 2 grant recipient. “We were able to demonstrate and articulate our impact in those grant applications, pulling directly from our logic model.” 

The VSPE Demonstration Project continues to support the important work of VSOs. Strong program evaluation strengthens the effectiveness, efficiency and capacity of VSOs programs to protect our veterans and military families. 

The VSPE Demonstration Project is currently accepting proposals for year 5. Learn more and submit a proposal.

This blog post is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $2,000,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

Darnesha Tabor
Darnesha Tabor, MDP, is an evaluation specialist for non-infectious disease programs at the CDC Foundation.