UCHealth has launched a pilot program aimed at preventing veteran suicides in El Paso County. It's open to all veterans and their family members, regardless of discharge status or years of service. The Next Chapter program includes help finding housing, addressing financial concerns, and assisting in mental health challenges.
Damien McCabe, director of behavioral health-military affairs for UCHealth, said the idea is to create a single access point for veterans to seek care.
"Research shows that the main reason that a veteran will take their own life and die by suicide is relationship concerns and financial status. So if we can help them in those situations…that's the reason why we're doing this," he said.
Just under a third of all suicides in El Paso County last year had known active or prior military status, according to the most recent report from the coroner's Office.
Funding for the new program comes from a $2.72 million grant from the state department of human services. Last year's Colorado Senate Bill 129 called for the creation of a program specifically to address suicide among veterans in El Paso County. McCabe said, right now, there is enough funding to last through the middle of 2025, serving 700 veterans and their families.
The program is only available to residents of El Paso County, but McCabe said anyone who seeks care will receive help. Other partners in the effort include Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center and Colorado Springs NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in support of family members.
"As a community, our history with the Department of Defense and the military and veterans goes back 60 years or more and we need to reinvigorate the nature of that relationship in terms of how we understand the challenges veterans and their families face when they transition out of military life," he said.
"(We want to) use that history and use that relationship to build capacity, to help our veterans and their families be healthier but also to be able to be more successful."
A “call to action” campaign about the program will launch in July and will include several different TV spots, online messaging, podcasts, direct mailing, and community advertising on public transit and other gathering spaces in El Paso County.
"The program is called Next Chapter because we want to take an approach with this that says there's more to do for any given crisis or any aspect of your life. There is a next chapter that's unwritten," McCabe said. "...and we want to be able to provide a place or a way or an access point to help you figure out how to get through your current crisis or your current need and write that next chapter in your life or in the life of your family."
To access services, veterans and their family members can make an appointment through the program website – www.NextChapterCo.org – or by calling 1-888-719-VETS.
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