By Sandra Chauhan
During Suicide Prevention Month in September, the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DoD) kicked off a campaign to let people know that preventing suicide starts with a simple act of support: Be There.
Although Suicide Prevention Month is over, VA’s efforts to prevent suicide continue — and that’s my focus year-round. I’m one of VA’s more than 300 trained Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPCs), working nationwide to help Veterans and their families navigate VA’s network of care and connect them with the right treatment and support. This powerful public service announcement, “After the Call,” features my fellow SPCs sharing their passion for supporting Veterans and their families.
In my line of work, there is no “typical day.” Even after 20 years as a clinical social worker and more than seven years working for VA’s Suicide Prevention program, I still never know what to expect when I arrive at work each morning, or open an email, or answer a call. Whatever my day brings, working one-on-one with Veterans is undoubtedly the best part. It’s so rewarding to help a Veteran going through a difficult time.
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At the same time, however, the work we do as SPCs can be extremely challenging. That’s why I’ve prioritized holding a team huddle each morning — a tradition I learned working as a VA Suicide Prevention program case manager. No matter how busy we are, I keep these meetings on the calendar. They remind us that we support each other, and that together we can rise to the challenge of working every day with a subject as serious and sensitive as suicide.
My team — two case managers, one student, a volunteer, and me — typically works with more than 20 Veterans a day. We assess Veterans and create safety plans for those who may be at risk for suicide; follow up on calls from the Veterans Crisis Line; and match Veterans who need support with services. We also work closely with the inpatient clinical and psychiatric units at our VA Medical Center, as well as with Veterans outside of VA to help them access mental health services in their communities.
Another large part of an SPC’s job is educating people at local events about the VA Suicide Prevention program and resources. This year, we teamed up with the 122nd Fort Wayne Air National Guard Base to raise awareness of VA resources at the base’s Open House and Air Show, attended by 75,000 people. Through a partnership with the Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, we distributed suicide prevention information to over 5,000 area churches that serve our Veterans and their families. We showed the HBO documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press One” on all of our campuses, and we heard a compelling story from a Veteran — the Associated Churches’ director of military families — who spoke about his experience calling the Veterans Crisis Line, which he said saved his recovery process and his life. I also coordinated a SAVE Training for a group of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts that included a large number of Veterans. We were a part of the James Dean Festival, with close to 50,0000 people attending, and we distributed thousands of outreach materials, including brochures, bracelets, and key chains, to rural communities in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.
As the holiday season approaches, I want to remind everyone about the importance of being there for our Nation’s Veterans. Visit the Be There website and learn how you can support Veterans and Service members who may be going through a tough time. Veterans no longer have to be alone with these thoughts and feelings; help is available, and we all can be a part of that help.
Everyone should also be aware of these signs of crisis, which require immediate attention from a medical or mental health professional:
- Thinking about hurting or killing oneself
- Looking for ways to kill oneself
- Talking about death, dying, or suicide
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or the dangerous use of weapons
If you notice these signs in yourself or a Veteran loved one, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255 to get confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Sandra Chauhan, LCSW, AAMFT
Suicide Prevention Coordinator
Northern Indiana VA Health Care System