(REMOTE - Nov.12, 2021): Colorado is launching an online platform, Operation Veteran Strong, designed to connect veterans to the right national and local resources at the right time to increase self-awareness, build resilience, and prevent the development of mental health and well-being crises. Although veterans make up nearly 10% of the population, 17% of all suicides in Colorado are veterans, and the suicide rate among veterans is more than double the rate of non-veterans.
Created by Grit Digital Health - a Denver-based behavioral health technology company, www.OperationVeteranStrong.org provides veterans, and the communities in which they live, access to the necessary tools, resources, and referrals to foster resilience and prevent suicide via a customized digital platform. Operation Veteran Strong is available for free to all veterans and their loved ones.
"As a psychologist, I firmly believe that it's not enough to only provide care to those who seek it. We have to find creative ways to connect veterans with resources to build resilience and prevent downstream mental health challenges. We are incredibly proud to provide this essential tool for our service members - ensuring they have the right mental health and well-being tools to navigate a successful transition the days, months, and years post service. This is one way to work towards reversing the harrowing trend of service members being more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty," said Nathaan Demers, VP of Clinical Programs and Strategic Partnerships at Grit Digital Health.
In 2018, Colorado convened a multidisciplinary, cross-agency group, the Colorado Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families (Colorado Governor’s Challenge) to lead state efforts. The Colorado Governor’s Challenge has leadership from across state departments, veteran-serving organizations, the Veterans Administration, and provider agencies. Cross agency support and funding from this group helps to support the launch.
After meeting and talking directly with veterans in various research studies, Operation Veteran Strong was designed with a shared mission to provide upstream, comprehensive support and connections to veterans 100% free and 100% confidential - 24/7/365. The online platform leads with videos of veteran stories and testimonials; a key insight uncovered during discussions with veterans in developing the on-line tool. Hearing a story from another veteran about strength and resilience can oftentimes be the difference between beginning the journey to getting the right help or not.
That help looks different for every veteran, and OperationVeteranStrong.org provides personalized access to thousands of evidence-based resources depending on the individual veteran’s own self-assessment. The types of veteran-specific tools and connections available are holistic, meaning they are meant to support the full person instead of focusing solely on mental and behavioral support - although they are built in when needed. Included are a variety of key topics that veterans asked for such as career, employment opportunities, education, relationships, family, transportation, housing, food, veteran benefit connections, and more. Veterans can also connect with localized resources right in their own community when they need them, as county level resources are continually being customized and added.
“Veterans, servicemembers and their families have been a priority focus for suicide prevention efforts in Colorado. We are pleased to have the leadership of a multi-agency collaborative group providing focus and support for these efforts,” Sarah Brummett, Director of the Office of the Suicide Prevention at CDPHE, said. “The launch of this Colorado resource represents one tool for communities, families, and individuals to promote health and well-being and to connect with veteran-specific resources in our state.”
State Office of Suicide Prevention funding supported the build out of regional and statewide resources as well as additional resources in six priority counties in Colorado that are participating in the development and implementation of comprehensive suicide prevention efforts. The National Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Rural Health is funding an evaluation of the site as well as support to tailor portal assistance and dissemination within rural Colorado communities. Rural Veteran communities are an area of concern as they often have a higher rate of suicide.
The platform works with local communities across the state to bridge the gap that our veterans are experiencing. “Take the time to learn the story of the veteran in your life or go out of your way to honor and get to know the veterans and the resources that exist in your community,” said VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System Director Michael Kilmer.