New England VA holds virtual suicide prevention conference

Suicide Photo credit Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA New England Healthcare System recently hosted an online conference called “#BeThere for Service Members, Veterans and Families: Strengthening Our Communities” that sought to form stronger relationships to prevent veteran suicides across the region.

According to a VA blog post, among the more than 250 attendees were librarians, gun shop owners, educators, social workers, medical directors of veteran services and leaders of the faith-based community.

“We know that VA can’t do this alone,” said Ryan Lilly, VA New England Healthcare System director.  “It’s really going to take every entity, every individual, and every organization that interacts with veterans on a routine basis to help us get there.”

Many participants said the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the stress veterans feel as they readjust to civilian life and face economic challenges.

“We all have a role in getting people to understand that they don’t have to solve this on their own,” said Ryan Pitts, a former Army soldier from Lowell, Mass., and the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the war in Afghanistan.

Presenters discussed how communities can connect with veterans via technology and how to find creative ways to reach out and provide support, such as simply calling a friend or checking in on a neighbor.

The blog added that pandemic fears have intensified PTSD, overall anxiety and depression as well as suicidal thoughts for many veterans. Many also feel that they should be able to solve a crisis in their life on their own and therefore are often reluctant to seek help.

“We’re the touchpoints for many veterans who are struggling,” said David W. Schafer, VA New England director of Mental Health.

The number to the Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255. Veterans in crisis or those who are concerned can then press 1 to reach help.

To learn more about VA’s community partnerships to prevent veteran suicides or to inquire about starting a partnership, visit here.

Reach Julia LeDoux at

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