Virginia joins governor’s challenge for military suicide prevention

Published 10:59 pm Thursday, January 31, 2019

Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced that Virginia was selected as one of seven states to participate in the inaugural Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. The challenge is hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The other six states participating in the Governor’s Challenge are Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire and Texas.

The states in the Governor’s Challenge will develop strategies and best practices to help implement the VA’s National Strategy for the Prevention of Veteran Suicide, which provides a framework for using a comprehensive public health approach to address the growing public health challenge among the veteran population.

“As an Army veteran, physician and governor of this great Commonwealth, I am deeply focused on the issues of mental health and suicide within our veteran population,” said Northam. “Virginia has long been a leader in ensuring that our veterans, service members and their families are cared for, and we look forward to this opportunity to develop and expand our ongoing efforts to reduce and prevent suicide.”

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The Governor’s Challenge is modeled after the Mayor’s Challenge to eliminate suicide among service members, veterans and their families that began last year. Led by Mayor Levar Stoney and the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, the city of Richmond was one of eight cities to participate in that challenge.

“Virginia has a history of success with Mayor’s and Governor’s Challenges issued by the VA,” said Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins. “In 2015, we became the first state in the nation to functionally end veterans’ homelessness, and I am confident that we will again effectively collaborate and pull together resources to best serve this population.”

“From 2003 to 2016, over 3,000 veterans died by suicide in Virginia, which is nearly 30 percent of the suicides statewide in that time frame,” said Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey. “We must tackle this issue, and we will with commitment from our health partners and various state agencies.”

The Virginia Governor’s Challenge team is co-chaired by Secretary Carlos Hopkins and Secretary Daniel Carey. The team roster consists of federal agencies including the VA Veterans Health Administration and the Department of Defense along with state agencies, including the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, Virginia National Guard, Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Social Services, Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, and Virginia State Police; and other health partners including Richmond Behavioral Health Authority and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.