September 18, 2020
Experts are increasingly concerned that social distancing and other responses to the COVID-19 pandemic may worsen underlying suicide risk factors, creating increased concerns for veterans’ health.
In New York State, veterans die by suicide at almost double the rate of their civilian counterparts, with veterans accounting for 1 in 7 suicides across the State. Western New York is far from eliminating social isolation in its veteran community, especially in more rural areas and in minority communities. According to a survey conducted annually by America’s Warrior Partnership, 40% of veterans in Western New York expressed a need to be connected to a resource within their community to help them overcome barriers and challenges. In 2020, NYSHealth awarded Veterans One-stop Center of WNY (VOC) a grant to address social isolation among veterans and help reduce the health risks associated with loneliness and isolation, including suicide
Under this grant, VOC will launch Operation Connect to strengthen and expand its two flagship peer-mentoring programs: The Dwyer Program and the WoVen program. The Dwyer Program takes a confidential, peer-to-peer approach to reducing isolation, increasing social connectivity and connecting veterans with the resources they need. The WoVen program helps female veterans by connecting them to peer leaders trained to address women’s unique needs. VOC will expand these programs throughout counties in Western New York, diversifying its participants and conducting outreach to minority and high-risk veterans with a focus on new rural areas. VOC will track the number of veterans connected to case management services and to peer groups and recreational activities, as well as the rates of feelings of isolation and loneliness among participants over time. Finally, VOC will create a blueprint for replicating Operation Connect, sharing lessons learned and best practices for the peer-mentoring programs.