Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, an awareness day observed each year to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides. To further create awareness and strengthen this fight, the entire month of September is Suicide Prevention Month. Though suicide is certainly not a Veteran-specific issue, a report released by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that Veterans are generally 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than non-Veterans. Statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs reveal 20 Veterans die by suicide every day, and one in three return home with an invisible wound. In a column released last week, Rep. Phil Roe M.D. (R-Tenn.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, writes, “That amounts to 140 lives lost every week, 7,280 lives lost every year, and 145,600 lives lost since 2000.”
As our nation continues to grapple with COVID-19, there is growing concern that the mental health impact from COVID may be the next pandemic. Increased stress and anxiety, combined with existing mental health injuries, can have deadly results—particularly for our nation’s Veterans.
This National Suicide Prevention Month, here is a look at the critical work Home Base is doing to raise awareness and prevent Veteran suicide—and how you can help.
Over the last three years, Home Base has leveraged state funding to train licensed mental health professionals in military culture and evidence-based treatment for PTSD (Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure), in areas outside of Boston to expand access to gold-standard care in local communities. (Click here to see referral map). Additionally, Home Base has trained hundreds of health professionals, first responders and community stakeholders throughout the Commonwealth on how to identify at-risk Veterans and connect them to care. (Click here to see community training).
In the fall of 2019, Home Base launched a statewide suicide prevention campaign known as the 20->0Project. By partnering with elected officials, VSOs, the VA, Vet Centers, Health Professionals, First Responders, and other community stakeholders to host a series of community roundtables, Home Base is evoking conversation, raising awareness, breaking the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, and creating a community-driven ecosystem to identify at-risk Veterans in local communities to connect them to care and save lives.
To date, Home Base has co-hosted three roundtables in-person in Methuen, Braintree and Westfield. Though the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has prevented Home Base from holding in-person roundtables, several virtual events are planned for the fall of 2020.
“Many service members and veterans with invisible wounds of war are not accessing gold standard mental health treatment for these concerns, or are seeking care in community settings without this expertise,” explains Lauren Richards, Ph.D., Home Base’s Associate Director of Education. “Improving access to military sensitive evidence-based treatment in communities in greatest need across the Commonwealth is critical in order to reduce the burden of mental illness in this underserved population. Our training program expands access to community provider education to improve the provision of military informed high-quality care for veterans with PTSD, substance use and associated elevated suicide risk.”
Recognizing that the Veteran suicide epidemic is a national problem, Home Base in 2015 joined Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) as a founding partner of Warrior Care Network along with UCLA Health, Rush University Medical Center and Emory Healthcare. With WWP’s support, Home Base expanded its Outpatient Clinic at Mass General and established an Intensive Clinical Program (ICP) open to Veterans across the nation suffering from invisible wounds. Remarkably, the ICP provides a year’s worth of treatments in two-weeks and includes families in the care plan. All treatment, support, lodging, transportation and meals are provided at no cost to Veterans and families.
Despite the new challenges posed by COVID-19, the Home Base team has continued to provide safe and effective care to as many Veterans, Service Members, and Families as possible. In March, the team moved quickly to ensure that patients continued to receive vital mental health care services online, including telehealth and face-to-face video therapy. In July, Home Base has safely reopened the ICP to Veterans from across the nation after implementing important changes following CDC and Massachusetts Hospital Infectious Disease guidelines. Home Base also continues to utilize Telehealth and provides both individual and group therapy online.
Though the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic requires us to social distance at a time when we need to be more connected, Home Base remains committed to ending Veteran suicide by using prevention strategies that are guided by the gold standard evidence-based treatment of mental health care. However, the success of Home Base’s mission is contingent upon community support. The Veteran suicide epidemic needs to be addressed daily—not just each September—and awareness and action are needed more than ever before amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
There are several ways you can support our mission this month (and beyond):
- Run to Home Base: as a signature fundraising event, this race raises critical funds in support of the Veterans, Service Members, and Families Home Base serves. The annual event has been reimagined this year due to COVID-19, but there is still plenty of time to sign up and run (or walk) in support of the mission.
- Share our 20->0 Project Campaign Video on social media (be sure to follow + tag @homebaseprogram)
- Tell someone about Home Base. Remember, one conversation can change—or save—a life. Visit org/connect2care to connect with a member of our Veteran and Family Outreach team.
- Follow @homebaseprogram on social media and share our #NationalSuicidePreventionMonth content