RallyPoint’s Mission to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members and Veterans

In the year after I left as secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in late 2016, the nation lost an average of 17 veterans to suicide each day.

Despite the tireless work of community, health care and veteran partners and the bipartisan commitment of policymakers, this number has remained stubbornly consistent. According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the number of veteran suicides exceeded 6,000 annually from 2008 to 2017.

Prevent Veteran Suicide

Even as we mourn every life lost, I want you to know there is hope in addressing this tragedy. This is thanks to the convening role of government and the partnership of the private sector, led by organizations such as RallyPoint, where I am fortunate to serve as chairman.

I assumed this position in October 2017, shortly after leaving federal office. I chose this role in part because, as a 1975 West Point graduate and former infantry officer, I know RallyPoint is place where the military and veteran community can connect with people, programs and information that can help us all lead more successful and fulfilling lives.

It was also a way for me to carry on the fight against suicide among veterans and combat other issues that put our military and veteran families at risk. These include economic disparities and disconnection from VA care, housing insecurity and social isolation which are problems exacerbated by the set of new normal behaviors required to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Bob and David Gowel

Bob and David Gowel, CEO of RallyPoint at the 2019 Student Veterans of America National Conference

Our Mission-Driven Work

This is mission-driven work led by the next generation of veterans, such as RallyPoint’s CEO David Gowel, a 2002 graduate of West Point. Gowel and this team are using both traditional and cutting-edge techniques to save the lives of our comrades. In just eight years since its founding, here’s just some of what RallyPoint is doing to prevent suicide among our nearly 2 million members:

  • Identify harmful posts and intervene. We engaged Dr. Matthew Nock, chair of psychology at Harvard University, to help us develop tools to identify public member posts where there is a presence of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (SITB). We then accelerated our work by partnering with Amazon Web Services to expedite the identification, prevention and interventions of SITBs evident in our members’ public posts.
  • Contribute to the new PREVENTS roadmap. We assisted VA in outreach to our community to share the new suicide prevention campaign that was rolled out as part of the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS), unveiled June 17, 2020. This new plan aims to improve suicide prevention research, coordinate state and local services, and build partnerships. We are eager to support the success of such critically important work.
  • Work with VA’s Suicide Prevention Program. For other public health campaigns, we facilitate member discussions that make sure VA is effectively reaching our member community and the wider audience of service members and veterans. We assist in communicating about the safe storage and disposal of medication, firearm safety, the Veterans Crisis Line and the Be There campaigns.
  • Expand partnerships to address risk factors for suicide. We regularly use the RallyPoint platform to connect our members with VA program officials, large employers like Amazon and USAA and leading veteran-serving organizations such as American Gold Star Mothers and the Wounded Warrior Project. Recent question-and-answer sessions, attracting a combined 1.29 million views, touched on risk factors for suicide by addressing employment, homelessness, loss of a loved one and issues unique to women veterans.

Help Prevent Veteran Suicide

You Are Not Alone, and Help is Available

Even as I look forward to seeing results from these new and ongoing initiatives, a basic truth remains unchanged: You would not let a broken arm heal on its own, and you are not alone in caring for your mental health. If you or a loved one is in crisis, you can:

  • Talk to a friend, counselor or member of the clergy if you are having suicidal thoughts or know someone who is. Approach fellow veterans who are vulnerable or who are in distress and let them know you are there for them.
  • Connect friends or loved ones with the Veterans Crisis Line/Military Crisis Line, where caring, qualified responders — many of them former military professionals — are standing by. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255 or chat online.
  • Contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the site online.
  • Join and be part of the conversation on RallyPoint, where you can reach out to your peers by building your profile, asking questions, and exploring resources to stay connected throughout your military and veteran journey.

It takes strength and courage to reach out. As chairman of RallyPoint, I invite you to join our community to help us prevent suicide and save the lives of those who served.

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