Suicide prevention among Nebraska veterans goal of grant
Whether it is military culture, the atrocities of war, or multiple deployments, the simple fact is the rate of suicide among the nation’s veterans has been on the rise since 9/11.
The increase is hitting those in the 18 to 34 age range the hardest, said Brent Khan, Ed.D., principal investigator of a three-year $375,000 Mental Health Awareness Training Grant aimed at suicide prevention among veterans in Nebraska.
“It’s pretty bad right now,” said Dr. Khan, who also is co-director of the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“The combination of the stress involved in military service, traumatic events experienced and a lack of support and stigma has led to the rates of trauma and mental illness being excessively high,” he said.
The goals of the grant are to:
- Foster alliances with veterans, families of veterans and local and state agencies to create effective recruitment methods and provide veterans culturally specific mental health training and referral pathways for services;
- Train families, caregivers and service providers to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness; and
- Give trainees and other non-behavioral health professionals the ability to have a heightened sense of mental health awareness and knowledge to respond safely.
The grant allows BHECN to partner with public health agencies, veteran groups and mental health agencies across the state to provide training.
There are 130,000 veterans living in Nebraska.
Some live in poverty, some suffer with alcohol and substance use abuse and others live in rural areas with little access to primary health care, let alone behavioral health services, Dr. Khan said.
“A lot of vets don’t access their VA benefits, so they are just out there,” he said.
More needs to be done to help them transition back into civilian life once their tour and, more likely than not, multiple tours of duty are done.
BHECN was created in 2009 when the Nebraska legislature passed LB 603 to address the statewide crisis in mental health access. Since then, BHECN has received two national awards and is considered a best practice for innovative programs to recruit and retain licensed mental health professionals in rural and urban communities. Housed at UNMC, BHECN has a unique partnership with all of the graduate behavioral health training programs in Nebraska and is dedicated to improving access to behavioral health care across the state.