CDC Foundation Grants Help 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 some others, however, post-military life can bring challenges. Sadly, the suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times greater than for those who have not served in the military, particularly among young veterans aged 18-35.

To combat veteran suicide, organizations like national nonprofit America’s Warrior Partnership take a holistic approach, working with community organizations to address the challenges veterans face before they turn into deeper problems. Because circumstances surrounding veteran suicide are complex, the group develops and maintains relationships with veterans to help them balance all aspects of their lives, from education and employment to housing and transportation, among others.

Cheree Tham, co-founder and vice president of America’s Warrior Partnership, says common challenges veterans face include transitioning from the unified culture of the military to finding their own individual path in the civilian sector, which often starts with connecting the skills they learned in the military to the requirements of employers and academic institutes.

This is a public health crisis that the private sector cannot solve alone, and the public sector cannot solve alone.

To help, the CDC Foundation has awarded grants to America’s Warrior Partnership and four other veteran service organizations. Through the support of CDC, the grants will allow each group—America’s Warrior Partnership, Arizona Coalition for Military Families, The Mission Continues, Stack Up and The Warrior Alliance—to identify and evaluate their goals in suicide prevention.

“This grant allows us to look at the touchpoints within the community, where we could have gotten ahead of the crisis and focused on prevention techniques,” Tham said.

Early intervention is a key element of veterans support, says Nicola Winkel, project director at the Arizona Coalition for Military Families. Most veteran service organizations follow either a community integration model, linking veterans with community services to address issues like housing or transportation, or a connectedness model, which focuses on helping veterans engage with like-minded communities to avoid feelings of isolation. In both approaches, Winkel says, the goal is to address small, day-to-day issues before they become significant problems.

“There is a tendency to see suicide prevention as stopping someone from killing themselves,” Winkel said. “But we’re trying to help people understand that suicide prevention also includes simply listening to someone who is feeling overwhelmed, or knowing a number to call for help.”

Often, Winkel says, the root causes of deeper mental health issues for veterans lie in common challenges like finding employment, financial worries, affordable housing, and relationship stress.

“If you can solve these types of problems, that’s as much suicide prevention as helping someone in the moment who is in a true mental health emergency,” Winkel said.

Each veteran service organization can use the grant to examine where their suicide prevention efforts are strongest, and where they may need help, which will bolster their overall effectiveness. Given its role as a link to connect CDC with the private and philanthropic sectors, the CDC Foundation is uniquely positioned to implement the grant, says Rob Abraham, a senior advancement officer for the CDC Foundation.

“This is a public health crisis that the private sector cannot solve alone, and the public sector cannot solve alone,” Abraham said. “The CDC Foundation has strategic experience in bridging the gap between the public and private sector and bringing them both to the table to collaborate towards a shared impact.”

For Cheree Tham, Nicola Winkel, and those of the other veteran service organizations, the grant opens doors to data collection that can have a profound impact on their daily work.

“The success of this grant and this evaluation plan will help us to streamline and strategize to help eradicate veterans suicide,” Tham said. “We know that’s a dream, but it’s what we want to see happen.”

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