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STOP SOLDIER SUICIDE: IMPROVING THE LIVES OF VETERANS

In the United States, suicide is one of the leading causes of death

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Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, hosts the Salute from the Chief event for Dr. Anthony Hassan and Brian Kinsella in the National Capitol Region, April 25, 2019.  The individuals received the Maritorious Public Service Medal for their dedication and support to the U.S. Army.  During the event, the honorees conducted an office call with Milley, laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, and attended a Twilight Tattoo on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.  (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dana Clarke)
Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, hosts the Salute from the Chief event for Dr. Anthony Hassan and Brian Kinsella in the National Capitol Region, April 25, 2019. The individuals received the Maritorious Public Service Medal for their dedication and support to the U.S. Army. During the event, the honorees conducted an office call with Milley, laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, and attended a Twilight Tattoo on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dana Clarke)

The rates are on the rise despite the efforts being made by various organizations to resolve this major public health crisis.  Comparing the suicide stats in the country, veterans are at the highest risk of dying by suicide. According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, seventeen U.S. veterans die by suicide every day. U.S. Service members are 50% more likely to die by suicide in comparison to non-service members. Alarmingly, the rate is higher in younger veterans between the ages of 18 to 34 years.

Since 2001, more than 100,000 U.S. veterans have expired by suicide. After analyzing the suicide rates at present, by the year 2030, another 60,000 veterans are expected to die by suicide. There are multiple reasons for the high suicide rates among veterans, including poor transition experiences, mental health issues, alcohol abuse, trauma, and chronic sleep difficulties.  Regardless of the causes for this elevated risk, veteran suicide rates are simply unacceptable. It is the collective responsibility of all nations to ensure at-risk veterans receive the emotional support and resources needed to lead a high-quality life, especially as they transition to civilian life. To address these problems, Stop Soldier Suicide, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, uses a multi-phased approach to reduce the increasing number of veteran suicides.

A UNIQUE APPROACH TO VETERAN SUICIDE PREVENTION

There are thousands of organizations in the U.S. with an aim to help veterans lead happy and healthy lives after returning from service. Many provide valuable services to the larger veteran community and their families. However, Stop Soldier Suicide is unique in its laser focus on preventing suicide. It has developed a state-of-the-art business model based on the best scientific thinking in the field.  They back up this bold claim with measurable outcomes and an approach validated by its Scientific Advisory Council that comprises internationally renowned suicidologists. Stop Soldier Suicide is a tip of the spear, serving suicidal veterans through a portfolio of services. These services include connecting its clients with vetted resources addressing their specific needs, followed by high-touch, high-frequency case management and wellness coaching to help high-risk veterans. The model emphasizes the belief that long-term suicide prevention requires more than merely stabilizing and managing immediate suicide risk. The right approach is to help veterans find a sense of purpose and belonging in the communities they swore to serve and defend.

DISRUPTING VETERAN SUICIDE

One of the key factors that can help in saving high-risk veterans is to understand their situation thoroughly. Generally, veterans receive impersonal connections and one-time services with little or no follow up. Neither of these approaches provides suicidal veterans with the services and support they need to live and thrive. It paves the way for a system that is guaranteed to fail to serve its purpose. Stop Soldier Suicide disregards the approach, and instead of making generalized assumptions and forcing the clients to change, the staff accepts the situation of its clients and works with them one-on-one.

Stop Soldier Suicide’s current service-delivery model is the product of nearly two years of intensive research, customer discovery, interviews with veteran suicide-attempt survivors and the families of veterans who died by suicide, and consultation with experts in the field. The refined and updated model consists of an extensive intake process across multiple domains. A full suicide-risk assessment follows the intake process. Stop Soldier Suicide’s case managers work with veterans at suicide risk to establish a safety plan to ensure that risk is stabilized and monitored throughout the veteran’s relationship with the organization. Following intake and assessment, Stop Soldier Suicide case managers will search its proprietary database to locate the best resources to meet each veteran’s uniques needs. It will then be followed by high-frequency, high-touch case management designed to help veterans achieve long-term gains in wellbeing, connectedness, and a deeper sense of purpose.

IDENTIFYING HIGH-RISK VETERANS

The primary focus of Stop Soldier Suicide’s multi-phased approach is to identify high-risk veterans for services and support. While finding these individuals among the more than 20 million veterans in the United States is a daunting challenge, it is imperative to reducing veteran suicides at a large scale. Stop Soldier Suicide is delivering focused “get help” marketing to those prospective clients who meet target marketing criteria identifying the risk factors, demographics, and behavioral characteristics of veterans at greatest risk for suicide. The organization is taking innovative, private-sector marketing practices and applying them to the rampant problem of veteran suicide. Marketing channels used to reach high-risk veterans include marketing , traditional and earned media marketing (podcasts, news), and agency referrals.

PROGRAMMATIC OUTCOMES

Stop Soldier Suicide has observed productive outcomes by implementing its refined model. Thirty-day reductions in suicide risk range from 44% (client self-assessment) to 12% (case manager assessment). Associated risk-factor metrics have seen similar reductions, including psychological pain (-32%),  hopelessness (-37%), agitation (-25%), stress (-14%) and self-hate (-26%). Collectively these outcomes illustrate the significant impact the model has on the organization’s veteran clients.

STARTING STOP SOLDIER SUICIDE

Having been directly impacted by the suicides of their fellow veterans, former Army Captain Brian E. Kinsella, along with Johns Hopkins classmates and military officers Craig Gridelli and Nick Black, founded nonprofit Stop Soldier Suicide in 2010. Their mission was to drive down military and veteran suicide rates down to national parity by 2030. Every year since its founding, the Stop Soldier Suicide team has served members and veterans of every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces by providing life-saving service and support to those most in need.

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