Virginia governor’s challenge to prevent suicide among military service members, veterans, and their families.
Virginia is 1 of 7 States to join the Governor’s Suicide Prevention Challenge. The Virginia Governor’s Challenge is a call to action for state and local communities to implement the Veteran Administration’s 2018-2028 National Strategy for the Prevention of Veteran Suicide. The aim of the National Strategy is to prevent suicide among service members, veterans, and their families using a comprehensive public health approach.
Virginia has the 8th largest veteran population (approximately 715,000 of our citizens) and 2nd largest active duty population (approximately 131,000 of our citizens) in the Nation. From 2003 to 2017, more than 3,250 veterans or service members died by suicide in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Lock and Talk is instrumental in bridging the communication about lethal means safety between mental health care providers, service men and women, veterans, and military families. Our Community Services Boards across the state have answered the challenge and are engaged in this initiative and accompanying Lock and Talk efforts.
Three themes of the Governor’s Challenge
Care: The provision of accessible and culturally competent behavioral health services
Identify and support service members, veterans and their family members at risk of suicide through asking the question, “Have you or a family member served in the military?” and provide suicide risk screening in community services.
Connect: Bringing military/veteran-specific and other community services together to form systemic partnerships
Increase engagement between Veterans Health Administration, Virginia Department of Veterans Services, and partner organizations for referrals for service members, veterans, and their families.
Communicate: Educating the SMVF population on resources and behavioral health providers on military culture and suicide prevention best practices
Expand lethal means safety (particularly firearm safety) training to community stakeholders through Lock and Talk.
Utilizing the Lock and Talk message means promoting safe and responsible care of lethal means while encouraging community conversations around mental wellness. “We are a Lock and Talk Family” campaign is used in the Governor’s Challenge efforts. Lock your guns, lock your meds, talk safety, and talk often is the primary message of the campaign. We are promoting the importance of everyone recognizing the benefit of becoming a Lock and Talk Family. A Lock and Talk Family may be in the home, work organization, school, or community.
The foundation of Lock and Talk is based directly on the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the input of key consultants involved in suicide prevention strategy and research.
Key messages include:
Limiting access to lethal means for a person in crisis is an essential strategy for preventing suicide. Any objects that may be used in a suicide attempt, including firearms, other weapons, medications, illicit drugs, chemicals used in the household, other poisons, or materials used for hanging or suffocation should not be easy for someone at risk to access. In crisis, objects such as firearms should be temporarily removed from the vicinity of the vulnerable individual.
People at risk for suicide should be part of the lethal means safety conversation, as should their families. Safe handling and secure storage of lethal means at home at all times is encouraged, even after a crisis has passed. Lock and Talk participants distribute safety devices and instruction for locking medications and firearms.
Talking about the problem of suicide helps to save lives and reduce stigma. Talking encourages help-seeking behaviors and helps attempt survivors and survivors of suicide loss in their personal healing.
Virginia Governor’s Challenge is co-led by the Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, Carlos Hopkins, and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Dr. Daniel Carey.
The team membership includes federal and state agencies and health partners:
- Veterans Affairs
- Department of Defense
- Virginia Department of Veterans Services
- Virginia National Guard
- Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services
- Virginia Department of Health
- The Virginia Department of Social Services
- Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services
- Virginia State Police
- Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Richmond Behavioral Health Authority
VISR 2.0: Virginia’s Identify SMVF, Screen for Suicide Risk, and Refer for Services (VISR)
The goal of VISR 2.0 is to enhance suicide prevention, risk screening, and safety planning for Service Members, Veterans, and Families (SMVF) through collaborative partnerships with community agencies. Through the initiative, staff/stakeholders receive training and resources in military culture, suicide risk screening, lethal means safety, and safety planning. VISR 2.0 also aims to track the number of SMVF screened and connected to services.
We are excited about the opportunity to provide information, training, and support to your organizations as we work together to provide hope, create pathways to care, and promote resiliency for our military-connected community members.
VISR 2.0 Components/Activities- Get Involved!
Working Groups. Much of the VISR experience involves working groups. Working groups are designed to connect similar agencies with similar experiences and goals, so that they can problem-solve together, support each other, and share resources. There are three working groups that meet monthly:
- Community Support & Social Services;
- Healthcare Organizations; and
- Veteran Service Organizations.
Quarterly Webinars. In line with agency needs, VISR will offer quarterly webinars to address training needs of agencies. These are not the only opportunities for trainings, but will be a regular way that agencies can engage together in common trainings.
Data Collection. George Mason will be leading data collection throughout the program to make sure we are addressing each agency’s needs and to identify areas of improvement.
For questions or for any new agencies wanting to get involved, please reach out to: Renshaw.firstname.lastname@example.org.
VISR 2.0 Resources and Trainings
Lethal Means Safety for the Prevention of Suicides for Service Members, Veterans, and Families. To download the below video, click here.
National Guard and Lock & Talk Virginia
As an extension of the collaboration with the Governor’s Challenge, Lock and Talk Virginia partners with personnel from the National Guard to support their efforts in bringing suicide prevention and mental heath education to their soldiers and their families. This collaboration expands on the key components of the Governor’s Challenge to Care, Connect, and Communicate to reduce stigma among our Service Members, Veterans, and the Families, and provide necessary resources to them when needed.
As part of their readiness programs, personnel are provided education on mental wellness, suicide prevention, and the importance of lethal means safety. In addition to this essential information, they are also given access to safety devices such as medication lock boxes, trigger locks, and cable locks for firearm safety in their homes.
Lock and Talk Virginia has provided multiple resources and connections to their personnel and families at the National Guard’s Yellow Ribbon mobilization events across the state that helps prepare those personnel and their loved ones for deployment. At these events, soldiers and their families are provided with training and valuable resources to support them during deployment and when they return home.