Government Relations Update

APA co-sponsors events on suicide prevention in military and veteran populations

Three-day effort combines research, practice, and advocacy.

By Diane Elmore and Heather O'Beirne Kelly

On September 12-14, 2011, the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah jointly sponsored a series of events in Washington, DC, that focused on reducing suicide risk in military and veteran populations. 

The events included a meeting of national experts to identify best practices for the clinical management of suicide risk with military service members and veterans, organized by psychologist M. David Rudd, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah.  Held at the APA headquarters, the meeting involved over 35 participants from academia, the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the National Institutes of Health, and veterans service organizations. 

Craig Bryan of the STRONG STAR Multidisciplinary PTSD Research Consortium and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. (Credit: Lloyd Wolf)

Scientists at the meeting presented data from current research on suicide, including such projects as the National Institute of Mental Health/Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS), the STRONG STAR multidisciplinary research consortium, and the Military Suicide Research Consortium.  Janet Kemp, the VA’s National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention, highlighted recent data on veteran suicide and outlined VA prevention programming.  David Jobes, a psychologist and member of the recent DoD Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces (PDF, 5.22MB), provided an overview of the Task Force’s recommendations in the areas of organization and leadership, wellness enhancement and training, access to and delivery of quality care, and surveillance and research.

Craig Bryan; Heather O’Beirne Kelly; Janet Kemp; Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Chair, House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health; David Rudd; David Jobes; and Diane Elmore. (Credit: Lloyd Wolf)

Other events included two Capitol Hill briefings held to educate Members of Congress and their staffs about suicide prevention in military and veteran populations and how researchers and clinicians from government and academia are addressing the problem.  Six members of the House of Representatives – Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), Michael Michaud (D-ME), Phil Roe (R-TN), and Tim Walz (D-MN) – had an informal, closed-to-press conversation about military and veterans suicide prevention with psychologists (and APA members) Craig Bryan (University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio), David Jobes (Catholic University), and M. David Rudd (University of Utah), as well as Janet Kemp of the VA. 

These same suicide experts spoke at a briefing on Reducing Suicide Risk in Military Service Members and Veterans, held in the hearing room of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.  The standing-room-only audience included Capitol Hill staff, government officials, and the general public.

Tied to these events, a reception and dinner was held to honor Salvatore “Sal” Augustine Giunta, the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War. At the dinner, APA President Melba Vasquez presented Staff Sergeant Giunta with an APA Presidential Citation.

Staff of the APA Public Interest Directorate coordinated the series of events and staff of the Science Directorate assisted with the Capitol Hill briefings, as part of APA’s commitment to supporting mental health research and services for military service members and veterans. 

Diane Elmore, PhD, MPH is the Associate Executive Director of Government Relations in the Public Interest Directorate of the American Psychological Association.  Heather O’Beirne Kelly, PhD is a Senior Legislative & Federal Affairs Officer in the  Government Relations Office of the Science Directorate at the American Psychological Association.