Serving Veterans by Preventing Suicides

It is important to honor those who have served and protected the United States. Part of that recognition is understanding and providing support for the unique challenges veterans and military families face. Suicide remains one of the most serious public health issues for veterans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans overall and rose 33 percent between 1999 and 2019. Veterans are a population at higher risk for suicide. Data from the Department of Veteran Affairs from 2019 show the veteran suicide rate was 1.5 times higher than the rate for non-veterans.

To help veteran-serving organizations better evaluate the effectiveness of their suicide prevention programs, the CDC Foundation was awarded a federal grant to work on the Veteran Suicide Prevention: Evaluation Demonstration Project (VSPE) in partnership with CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

As part of this program, the CDC Foundation has funded a total of 23 veteran-serving organizations over six years to evaluate their work in suicide prevention. The program provides intensive technical assistance to build evaluation capacity for upstream veteran suicide prevention programming while helping the organizations build their capacity to engage partners and better communicate and disseminate their evaluation activities and findings.

One of the program grantees is The Warrior Alliance, an Atlanta-based organization that serves as a backbone to connect veterans and their families to the services they need. Their mission is to transition veterans and their families from military service to a fulfilling civilian life within their communities. The organization works in collaboration with local, regional and national partners, striving to understand the root causes of suicide, take preventive action and ultimately reduce veteran suicide.

Tanha Patel, MPH, CDC Foundation, Carrie Bair-Norwood, Project Sanctuary, and Emily Saxon, MPH, CPH, CDC Foundation

Through this initiative, The Warrior Alliance has improved its organizational ability to collect and use quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate and improve programs. These skills enabled The Warrior Alliance to build an evaluation framework that is replicable and adaptable to their other upstream veteran suicide prevention programs. The Warrior Alliance Chief Executive Officer Scott Johnson shared that since participating in this program, “Evaluation has become an integral part of their culture and is embedded into every operational aspect of the organization.”

Another grantee is Project Sanctuary, a national nonprofit supporting military and veteran families through six-day therapeutic retreats and wrap-around case management. Project Sanctuary is one of the only organizations focused on veteran mental health, serving veterans, spouses, caregivers and children as a family unit with a fully licensed and professional staff.

“While many organizations serve the veteran, service member and/or the spouse or caregiver, there are very few that include the children in the household and bring the family together as a unit as part of the healing journey,” said Carrie Bair-Norwood, chief development and marketing officer for Project Sanctuary.

Bair-Norwood also highlights the impact of Project Sanctuary’s participation in the program, saying, “Being part of the Veteran Suicide Prevention: Evaluation Demonstration Project has made a profound impact on our program evaluation processes and efforts. As an organization we are focused on the importance of evaluation. To have the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of the VSPE team and learn from other VSPE participants was imperative to our early and continued success in this space.”

By building an essential evidence base around what works within existing veteran-serving organization prevention programs, 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 $2.8M 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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