Defense Department, VA Gear Up to Host Suicide Prevention Conference

Lt. Cmdr. Karen Downer writes a name on a Suicide Awareness Memorial Canvas in honor of Suicide Awareness Month at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Sept. 10, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Jacob Sippel, Naval Hospital Jacksonville).
Lt. Cmdr. Karen Downer writes a name on a Suicide Awareness Memorial Canvas in honor of Suicide Awareness Month at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Sept. 10, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Jacob Sippel, Naval Hospital Jacksonville).

The Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments will team up in August to hold a conference on suicide prevention in Nashville.

The meeting, the first in two years, will bring together the suicide prevention offices of both departments and the military services, as well as subject-matter experts from academia, nonprofit groups and veterans and military support organizations, to address the ongoing battle against active-duty and veteran suicides.

The theme, "Many Roles. One Mission," will focus on a motif embraced this year by VA and Pentagon officials that every person has a role in preventing suicide -- leaders, medical and behavioural health personnel, family members and friends.

"We may all have different roles to play, but we are united by our shared goal: To deliver compassionate support and care," organizers said in a statement on the conference's website.

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The meeting, which will be held Aug. 26-29, comes as the Defense Department works to address rising suicide rates among active-duty personnel. The rate among veterans remains stubbornly high.

Earlier this year, VA officials said the country needs a "whole of society" approach to preventing suicides, which includes family members, friends and former military colleagues picking up the phone, texting or sending social media messages to people they are worried about.

The VA's "Be There" campaign relies on the concept that reaching out is a "strong preventive factor for suicide," according to the department.

The Pentagon has yet to release 2018 suicide data for the active duty, National Guard and Reserves, but an analysis by Military.com found the figure to be at least 321 for active-duty troops -- the same as the record set in 2012.

DoD officials plan to release a new report on suicide this summer that will include complete data for 2018, as well as figures for suicides among military family members.

Those interested in attending the 2019 Department of Veterans Affairs/Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Conference can register at the Defense Suicide Prevention Office's website.

Military personnel and veterans who need help can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or text 838255.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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