Virtual Meeting Brings Stakeholders Together to Provide Solutions to Combat Veteran Suicide

Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans serve their country in the U.S. military. For many, their military experience becomes a building block for personal and professional development, and a touchstone of pride long after they return to civilian life. For others, however, post-military life can bring challenges. Sadly, the rate of death by suicide for veterans is 1.5 times greater than for those who have not served in the military, particularly among young veterans aged 18-35. The good news is that suicide prevention is possible. 

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are rarely caused by any single factor, which means there are multiple pathways for prevention. To help address the challenge of veterans’ suicide, the CDC Foundation is working in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a project to build evaluation capacity among veteran-serving organizations (VSOs) implementing programs that support an upstream, public health approach to suicide prevention among U.S. military veterans. 

Through this project, now in its second year, VSOs were awarded grants to develop and implement an evaluation plan and build their capacity for ongoing program evaluation. The goal of the project is to help VSO grantees build and implement evaluative knowledge and skills and use evaluations as a performance improvement tool based on CDC's Evaluation Framework, resources and focused technical assistance. 

In addition to building capacity to evaluate and improve programs, the CDC Foundation also understands the need for a comprehensive, coordinated approach that includes collaboration across sectors as part of an upstream public health approach to ending veteran suicide. 

For this purpose, a two-part virtual meeting was held in June. The meeting aimed to increase understanding of the work and experiences of project grantee VSOs and the integration of evaluation into suicide prevention efforts. Additionally, the meetings sought to facilitate networking, knowledge transfer and strategic partnership building between the VSOs and a variety of suicide prevention stakeholders.

The virtual, real-time meeting was designed to be highly interactive, utilizing structured processes to guide the group through a series of predefined steps to achieve the stated outcomes while emphasizing both individual engagement and group collaboration. 

On day one of the meeting, VSO grantees had an opportunity to share their hero’s journey with multi-sector stakeholders. By sharing their experiences through their hero’s journey, VSOs were able to explain to participants why their program exists and why they participated in the project, take them through the challenges and revelations, and finally to the next steps for achieving success. More than 140 public and private stakeholders, including leadership from veteran-serving organizations; representatives from business and philanthropy; representatives from federal agencies (e.g. Veterans Affairs, CDC, etc.); and other organizations across sectors participated in the meeting. These groups engaged with the seven organizations involved in the project about successes and lessons learned as well as ways to further engage and collaborate after the meeting. 

On the second day, the VSOs met with internal CDC and CDCF project stakeholders, allowing all of the participants to dig a little deeper into challenges and opportunities related to their projects. Debra Houry, MD, MPH, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at CDC, discussed new advances in suicide prevention work at CDC. 

It is our hope that after such an engaging meeting, VSOs are able to diversify and increase resource mobilization through new collaborations, increasing the impact and sustainability of their programs addressing veteran suicide.

We owe a debt of gratitude to every member of our U.S. military for their service, and we hope this project provides a variety of resources to help address this urgent American public health issue.

Lola Oguntomilade
Lola Oguntomilade, MPH, is a senior program officer for the CDC Foundation.