Providers learn about veteran suicide

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2019

More than 90 people from the Hampton Roads region were in Suffolk on Aug. 7 to learn more about preventing suicide among the veteran population.

The Regional Military Culture and Suicide Prevention Summit was one of six such events being held throughout the state this summer as part of the Governor’s Suicide Prevention Challenge. Virginia was one of seven states that accepted the challenge from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Today is all about outreach and education for community service providers to learn military culture and core suicide prevention best practices specifically for military service members, veterans and their families,” said Brandy Jancaitis, military and veterans affairs manager for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. “This is one of the first outreach efforts for the Governor’s Suicide Prevention Challenge.”

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Held at the Western Tidewater Community Services Board’s Harbour View office, the event brought in mental health professionals and others from throughout the area to learn about military culture and specific resources they can use to help those who need their services.

“The idea is that if you have community providers that feel comfortable openly talking to this population, serving this population, and getting them linked in to federal resources, you’re getting people to resources early enough and before the crisis,” Jancaitis said. “The idea is to get a workforce in the community that’s comfortable treating military and veterans.”

Of the 20 to 22 veterans per day that die by suicide, 70 percent were not engaged with Veterans Affairs, Jancaitis said.

“Some aren’t going to ever engage with the VA, so we have to make sure the community providers know how to treat them too,” she said.

The event was especially relevant in Hampton Roads. One in 10 Virginians is a veteran — a proportion that rises to one in five in the Greater Hampton Roads region.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson gave the welcome at the event, and Boy Scout Troop 16 posted the colors. Those in attendance also learned about military culture, safety planning, and resources available specifically in the Hampton Roads region.

For example, according to Kathleen Jabs, state deputy secretary of veterans and defense affairs, providers learned to ask whether someone has served in the military, rather than if they are a veteran.

“A lot of times, people don’t think of themselves as a veteran,” Jabs said, perhaps because they didn’t serve for very long or didn’t serve in a war zone. “One of the key tactics is we’re asking people to say, ‘Have you served?’ and that helps them connect to resources. In many ways, there’s an extra layer of resources for veterans. We want to make sure people are taking advantage of those opportunities they earned with their service.”

One unique resource available locally is the Orders Home program, which Western Tidewater Community Services Board has voluntarily implemented to provide peer support for transitioning veterans who are in need of help.

Attendees at the Aug. 7 event learned about the program’s services, which include group support and individual help in finding resources to solve any problem they may be having.

“We’re going to catch them and tear down the barriers that lead them to complete suicide or even contemplate suicide,” said John Howard, a certified peer support specialist and U.S. Army veteran. “We try to really get ahead of what leads them to contemplate suicide.”

The program reaches out to veterans wherever they are — barbershops, bars, churches, even incarcerated — and helps them connect.

“No longer are we standing back waiting for veterans to come to us,” said Brian Preston, manager of the program. “We’re out in the community going to find them.”

Active-duty military, veterans and family members who are in crisis can call a crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-273-8255. Online chat is also available at or by texting 838255.