Veterans Affairs officials plan to award nearly $52 million in grants for suicide prevention programs in coming months to community groups in an effort to provide more targeted help for individuals in distress and better outreach to veterans outside the VA health care system.

The program has been in the works for the last 18 months, since Congress authorized the move as part of comprehensive mental health legislation. Individual groups can receive up to $750,000 through the effort, and can have that money renewed for two additional years if they show progress in preventing suicide.

Advocates have compared the idea to the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, which annually awards money to community groups to provide faster and more focused aid to veterans facing housing problems. The grants have been a key tool in driving down rates of homelessness among veterans over the last decade.

The new Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program is designed to replicate that success with mental health and emergency intervention services.

Veteran suicides fell to their lowest level in 12 years in 2019, down more than one death a day from the previous year’s levels, according to data released by the Department of Veterans Affairs last fall

Despite that, the rate of suicides among veterans remains almost double the rest of the American public.

Of the estimated 17 veteran deaths by suicide each day, about 10 of them are from individuals with no contact with VA health or support services. VA officials have worked in recent years to improve outreach to that group.

Department officials said they will prioritize grants to organizations “that focus on areas with limited access to medical services, in rural communities, on tribal lands, in U.S. territories, or in areas with a high number or percentage of minority veterans or women veterans.”

VA will also give extra attention to groups working in regions “with a high number or percentage of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line,” which provides around-the-clock support to veterans in crisis. Applications are open now, and money is expected to be delivered to groups in September.

Matthew Miller, executive director of the VA Suicide Prevention Program, said the new grants will help strengthen existing community partnerships and build new ones for the department.

“We believe that it sends a strong message regarding our core tenets within suicide prevention,” he said. “Number one, suicide is preventable. Number two, it will require a public health approach, which means moving beyond just the clinical setting.

“And that’s going to require all of us. Now we’re able to back those tenets up with specific funding through this grant.”

Grants will be awarded to organizations that “provide or coordinate suicide prevention services,” which includes clinical offerings, education programs, peer support services and more.

Miller said groups will be required to show evidence of their impact throughout the process, to provide proof that they are helping veterans and information for VA officials to use in future suicide prevention efforts.

Department officials will hold an application webinar next week to provide more information for interested groups. Additional grant information is available on the VA web site.

Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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