Healing Happens in the Community: Preventing Veteran Suicide

A vital aspect of honoring those who have served our country is understanding and providing support for the unique challenges veterans and military families face. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is a serious public health problem. Sadly, veterans are a population at higher risk for suicide. According to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the age-adjusted rate of suicide increased 6.3 percent among veteran men and it increased 24.1 percent among veteran women between 2020-2021. CDC also emphasizes that suicide is preventable and everyone has a role to play in saving lives and creating healthy and strong individuals, families and communities. 

Community-based veteran serving organizations (VSOs) help build connections and create an upstream approach to suicide prevention for veterans and military families. In June 2024, the CDC Foundation was pleased to host a convening for current and former VSOs participating in our Veteran Suicide Prevention Evaluation (VSPE) project to promote our grantees evaluation work and support a community of practice among VSOs conducting formative or process program evaluations. Among the VSOs presenting their evaluation findings at the convening, one theme was often repeated: For veterans, healing happens in the community.

Pictured left to right are Melissa McKnight and Stephanie Steele, Vets Recover, Tanha Patel, MPH and Emily Saxon, MPH, CPH, of the CDC Foundation.

Brandon Healy, program manager, Operation Commissary, part of Operation Stand Down Tennessee. Retired from the U.S. Army, Healy is pictured here while deployed in Afghanistan in 2010.

For the past six years, the CDC Foundation has been partnering with CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control to help VSOs better evaluate the effectiveness of their suicide prevention programs through the VSPE project. As part of this program, the CDC Foundation has funded a total of 23 VSOs over six years to evaluate their work in suicide prevention. 

“Being a part of the VSPE program has been invaluable,” said Melissa McKnight, director of community integration at Vets Recover, one of the VSOs participating in the VSPE program. “It has allowed myself and my teammates to collect our thoughts on how to put together a thorough formative evaluation on one of our programs.”

Brandon Healy, program manager of Operation Commissary at Operation Stand Down Tennessee and himself a U.S. Army veteran, shared a similar sentiment about the impact of the VSPE program to his organization. “The Veteran Suicide Prevention Evaluation Program has taught us where we can make improvements to help with upstream veteran suicide prevention,” said Healy.

In partnership with CDC, the CDC Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of the Veteran Suicide Prevention through Effective Evaluation Practice: Veteran Suicide Prevention Program Evaluation Toolkit for use by VSOs and other community-based programs with suicide prevention programs. This toolkit and accompanying workbook details formative and process program evaluation techniques for upstream veteran suicide prevention programs. The toolkit also aims to help sustain the evaluation capacity built among the supported VSOs and make educational content available to more VSOs interested in evaluating their upstream suicide prevention programs. 

By building an essential evidence base, this project aims ultimately to prevent and reduce veteran suicide by reaching those at risk before they are in crisis.

This article is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $2,500,000 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.

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