A Deepening Crisis
In 2015, the Arizona Violent Death Reporting System found that over one 18-month period of time, the risk of suicide to Arizona veterans was 3-4x higher than the general population. Despite the significant resources and effort invested in suicide prevention on the national level by both the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
At the time, Arizona already had a robust cross-sector partnership focused on building support for the 500,000+ service members, veterans and their families who called Arizona home through the Arizona Coalition for Military Families. Additionally, the Coalition and partners had extensive experience working together to address complex issues. The leadership partners were committed to working together to forge a different approach to suicide prevention that involved all the major stakeholders and would address the stressors and challenges facing the military, veteran and family population earlier and more effectively.
Establishing the Foundation
The Office of the late Senator John McCain was instrumental in setting the conditions for this partnership. He and his team advocated having Arizona designated as a pilot program site under the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which provided an avenue for formal partnership between the VA entities within Arizona, the Coalition, Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services and all of the key stakeholders. This established the foundation upon which Be Connected was built.
Learning From the Past, Advancing Into the Future
With this foundation, the partners embarked on a year-long strategic planning process to determine a path forward for addressing suicide with an upstream prevention approach. Fortunately, the team was well prepared to undertake this work. Several years prior, the Arizona National Guard experienced the highest rate of suicide in the history of the organization from 2008 – 2010. As a result, the Adjutant General made suicide prevention the number one priority, and the Coalition team created the Be Resilient program. Due to this program, there were zero suicides for three consecutive years from 2011 – 2013.
The team took this experience and mapped out a program that would take the lessons learned on what was effective and expand it to reach Arizona’s 500,000+ service members, veterans, family members and their communities, and Be Connected was born.
Be Connected launched in the spring of 2017. The program started with just one direct service team member and the Coalition as the backbone organization. Since then, the team has grown to 50+ people dedicated to reaching, serving and connecting every service member, veteran and family member to the support and resources for all areas of need. Learn more about Be Connected and how you can be a part of this solution.