Coalition helps VA start suicide prevention program

Coalition helps VA start suicide prevention program

The program will be VA backed and veteran-led and informed.

Veteran suicide rates, occuring at a rate of nearly twice that of American civilians, according to the Deaprtment of Veterans Affairs, have long been a source of grave concern.

Now, in Juneau, the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition is working with the VA to give veterans the tools to help their fellows in distress.

They’re holding a meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, getting interested individuals involved in forming a working group to see what those veterans need. The meeting will be held over Zoom, at the link here https://wiche.zoom.us/j/96627977480

“Right now in Juneau, we have a suicide prevention coalition. We get a bunch of people together and we talk about what we need to do to prevent suicide,” said Aaron Surma, director of the coalition, in a phone interview. “The VA wants to replicate that, with veterans doing to work to reach veterans.”

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The program, called Together With Veterans, is a VA-administered program that works with rural veterans and local organizations in places where a VA clinic or hospital might not exist. It helps form working groups that partner with local organizations to help them better connect and serve the veteran community.

“This group of veterans will spend a year figuring out what Juneau needs,” Surma said. “We’re trying to recruit people to participate in that initial planning process.”

The group, hopefully totalling around 10, will figure out what training, advertising, specialties or other tools the healthcare community in Juneau needs to help its population of veterans, Surma said. Those seeking to volunteer need not be veterans, though they will have to have the best interests of the veteran community in mind, Surma said.

“They’ll go through their own planning process, but they don’t need to start from scratch,” Surma said. “We had one (meeting) at the end of August. There’s a lot of interest, a lot of people sharing the message.”

The number of veterans in Juneau is more than 1,000, and possibly as high as 2,000 to 3,000, Surma said. There are also veterans from many outlying communities in Southeast Alaska that come to Juneau for medical services. Determining how to better inform veterans about resources and how to use them will be part the group’s work.

“What does exist for vets in the community?” Surma said. “People don’t know about the resources that currently exist.”

All approaches could be looked at, Surma. The JSPC will do what it can to pass on what worked for them in reducing deaths from suicide and increasing the number of people who reached out to use resources available to them, Surma said.

“Advertising and talking about this matters. When the JSPC promoted the Careline, use increased many times over. Juneau by population was the biggest user of the Careline Alaska-wide,” Surma said. “This stuff does work. Advocacy works. We saw the usage rates increase dramatically. This isn’t just a cute thing.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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