Governor Dan McKee today announced that the The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) has been awarded $750,000 in federal funds to coordinate with the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center (VA), other State agencies, and a range of community partners to implement a three-year program to address the issues of mental health and suicide among Rhode Island veterans and their families.

More from the press release;

The Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will support community-based suicide prevention efforts through outreach, suicide prevention services, and connections to healthcare and community resources.

“Suicide among service members, veterans, and their families is a public health crisis, and we all have an obligation to be part of the solution,” said Governor Dan McKee. “This grant will help us strengthen the existing support network we have in Rhode Island for veterans and their families, and it will help us put in place new strategies to keep veterans healthy and safe.”

“We are striving to create systems in Rhode Island that help our servicemembers and their families live long, healthy lives starting the moment they enlist,” said Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos. “This funding will allow our experts at RIDOH apply their expertise in community-based care to mental health issues, including suicide. I’m grateful to our congressional delegation for making this state and federal partnership possible.”

“Veteran suicide rates are decreasing, but they are still too high and we’ve got to keep working to ensure every veteran gets the care and help they need. Programs like this are going to continue to help do that. I wrote the 988 suicide prevention law to make it easier for people in crisis to get help and helped pass the Commander John Scott Hannon Act to deliver this latest round of federal aid and help veterans get the integrated care they need, when they need it,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who led efforts to deliver $174 million in federal funding for this grant program nationwide and encouraged the state to apply. Reed also helped include a total of $497 million for veterans suicide prevention outreach efforts in the latest appropriations law.

“The epidemic of suicide among veterans and their families is as tragic as it is unacceptable,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “We owe it to our veterans to provide them with the highest caliber of care, so I’m glad that these federal dollars will be used to help connect veterans and their families with the mental health resources they deserve.”

“Across our country, we are sadly still losing far too many veterans to suicide after they return from service. To ensure that veterans have 24/7 access to assistance, I have led the annual appropriations request in Congress for the Veterans Crisis Line, ensuring support for those seeking to address mental health issues, particularly thoughts of suicide. As we see the need for mental health services expand, we must also provide additional support for community-based programs, ensuring that our veterans can begin healing their invisible wounds,” said Congressman Cicilline. “I’m glad to see this coalition coming together, with the aid of federal grant, to implement this new program that will help save veterans’ lives. I will continue to work to ensure that this program, and others like it, get the support they need to help every veteran who needs it.”

“Community must be at the heart of work to prevent suicides among veterans. These grant funds will allow us to build upon the collaborations we have developed over years with partners in the healthcare community, veterans’ affairs community, and the social support network in Rhode Island,” said Interim Director of Health Utpala Bandy, MD, MPH. “We need to get help to people with behavioral health challenges consistently and comprehensively, in the same way that we do for physical health conditions. This is especially true when it comes to veterans.”

In addition to the VA, key partners will include the Executive Office of Health and Humans Services (EOHHS), the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services, other military-serving organizations, such as Operation Stand Down, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC), organizations that serve Rhode Islanders with unstable housing, and BH Link. RIDOH also intends to engage non-traditional partners, such as barbershops and hair stylists to reach veterans who may be resistant to traditional outreach from the VA or other institutions.

Work will likely focus on gun safety, getting veterans connected to care at the VA, a coordinated system for referring veterans to care, trainings for healthcare providers on the unique needs of veterans, and the development of education material, amongst other areas.

“The Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant will strengthen existing partnerships across local, state, federal and community organizations, allowing unified and collective engagement for veteran suicide prevention,” said Kasim Yarn, Director of the Rhode Island Office of Veterans Services. “Hope serves as a key and necessary anchor to strengthen veterans facing challenging life circumstances; our daily work is centered around providing that hope and a hand-up to all Rhode Island veterans and their families. Our veterans should know that they are not alone, and this grant will expand our outreach to spread hope and end suicide.”

The work supported by this grant will blend community-based prevention with evidence-based clinical strategies to serve Rhode Island’s 62,000 veterans and their families. Nationally, the suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times higher than that of the general population. In Rhode Island there were 14 veteran suicides in 2020, as reported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

A veteran who is struggling and needs support can call the Veteran Crisis Hotline (dial 988 then press 1), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK), or the Providence VA Medical Health Care System (401-273-7100 x 13057). If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.

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