Suicide knows no boundaries.
It can affect any age group, gender, or race. It has nothing to do with income or education. Suicide can become a tragedy for anyone.
Alabama is proud of its military, with more than 9% having served our country. However, the state also faces the tragic reality of having one of the nation’s highest Veteran suicide rates. In 2020, 152 Veterans in Alabama took their own lives, which represented 18% of the state’s suicides. The following year, the veteran suicide total decreased to 142.
It’s time we address this issue head on.
Alabama’s Challenge for Preventing Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families (SMVF) is an initiative aimed to create an impactful, long-term outcome across the state as we continue fighting a stigma with mental illness.
Raising awareness of suicide prevention can help us understand the event and circumstances that lead to mental health issues. The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs is a lead agency within Alabama’s Challenge and assists with connecting with SMVF to provide information and knowledge about suicide, provide support, and provide resources and options to deal with PTSD and crisis situations.
In February 2022, Alabama’s Challenge launched a statewide campaign of holding a town hall and Veterans resources and job fair in various cities around the state. In 2022, town halls were hosted in Dothan, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Hoover. Town halls in 2023 are being planned for Anniston, Enterprise and Auburn.
2022 TOWN HALLS: TUSCALOOSA, MOBILE, DOTHAN, HUNTSVILLE, MONTGOMERY, HOOVER
Vets For Hope
Vets For Hope is a one-stop online landing page for veteran suicide prevention with an easy-to-remember name. It features a directory of service providers, locations of crisis centers, information on warning signs, and more.
You can access these great resources by visiting vetsforhope.com.
Public Service Announcements
The History of Alabama’s Challenge
Alabama’s Challenge is an aligned effort between the legislative Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide and the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among SMVF, which share a significant overlap in goals and team membership. The efforts were aligned in March 2021 through HJR 28, which also extended the Alabama Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide created by HJR 151 through the last legislative day of the 2022 Regular Session.
HJR 151, which established the legislative Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide, was proposed by Rep. Neil Rafferty and passed in May 2019. Rep. Rafferty, a Marine veteran, saw a need to investigate the causes of and prevention of suicides among veterans after a friend and fellow Marine veteran died by suicide.
A continuing stigma with mental illness is a tragic reality for Veterans, with approximately 17 veterans in the U.S. dying by suicide per day. In Alabama, the veteran suicide rate is even higher than the national veteran average and significantly higher than the national civilian average.
Recently released data shows nearly 18% of those who died by suicide in Alabama are veterans, though only 9.1% of Alabamians have served. Male veterans die by suicide at a rate 1.3 times higher than civilian counterparts, and for women veterans it is 2.1 times higher.
This crisis led to the creation of Alabama’s Challenge, an initiative targeted to inform SMVF of resources to ultimately prevent suicide.
In early 2020, Alabama was invited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to participate in the Governor’s Challenge. The well-established program has three specific focus areas:
- Identification and screening of SMVF who might be at risk
- Promote connectedness and improve care transitions
- Lethal means safety and safety planning
“The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs is honored to be partnered with Governor Ivey’s Office, the Alabama Legislature, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Department of Public Health, and countless other organizations for Alabama’s Challenge,” said Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Kent Davis. “Suicide prevention is an important conversation within the veteran community, and it takes everyone to battle this tragic reality. We are looking forward to partnering with great resources around the state as we continue to raise awareness about veteran suicide prevention.”
To begin the program, the Governor’s Challenge team attended webinars on subjects including outreach to rural Veterans, garnering policy support, community collaboration, safe messaging, strategic communications, and engaging veterans at risk. Governor’s Challenge objectives include:
- Implementing promising, best, and evidence-based practices to prevent and reduce suicide
- Engage with city, county, and state stakeholders to enhance and align local and state-wide suicide prevention efforts
- Understand the issues surrounding suicide prevention for SMVF
- Increase knowledge about the challenges and lessons learned in implementing best policies and practices by using state-to-state and community-to-community sharing
As the initiative continues to grow statewide, a focal point will be hot spots for suicide in Alabama, which will be identified through “heat maps.” Branding campaigns are being created and implemented for Alabama’s Challenge and public and private sector partners are being contacted to provide further resources for suicide prevention.