Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2023

Commonwealth Steps Up Efforts To Prevent Suicides and Reduce Opioid Addiction Among Veterans And Their Family Members By ANGELA PORTER, PH.D.

Virginia is home to more than 690,000 military veterans – one of the largest percentages of veterans of any state. Governor Glenn Youngkin and the members of the Virginia General Assembly have made it clear that they want Virginia to be the #1 state in America for veterans and their families to live, work and thrive. The mission of theVirginia Department ofVeterans Services (DVS) is to assure that Virginia veterans are aware of and take advantage of the state and federal benefits they earned from their service and to help them find meaningful and fulfilling employment in the civilian workplace. While most veterans find the transition from active duty to civilian life is smooth and uneventful, for some the transition can create challenges with financial/housing stability, mental health, substance use, or family relationships. In extreme cases, these stressors can lead to crisis situations and even suicide if they are unable to connect with treatment and supportive services. In fact, suicide and addiction rates among veterans are considerably higher than the rates for the general population. In 2020, there were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths reported nationally. The suicide rate for veterans was 57% greater for veterans than non-veterans that year. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that over half of the veterans we lose to suicide were not connected with the VA for healthcare prior to their deaths. Community service providers are critical partners in the suicide prevention mission. In 2020, 181 veterans died by suicide in Virginia (1,154 total suicide deaths). The use of a firearm is the lethal means in most veteran suicide deaths with 80% dying by firearm compared to approximately 58% for civilians. Secure storage of firearms and ammunition (also called lethal means safety) can save lives. Approximately 1 in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, slightly higher than the civilian population. Veterans may face unique issues that require pain management with over 60% reporting they cope with pain. This can put veterans at higher risk for accidental opioid overdoses. The overall opioid overdose rates (primarily heroin or synthetic opioids compared to medication for pain relief) among veterans increased to 21% in 2016 from 14% in 2010. Opioid overdose is a critical concern for all Virginians. The Virginia Department of Health reported a 33% increase in Emergency Department visits for opioid overdoses from 2019 to 2020. The number of deaths associated with an opioid overdose increased 17 percent from 2019 to 2020 yielding four deaths per day. While theVirginia Veteran and Family Support (VVFS) program at the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS) has been working diligently with our partners to prevent veteran suicides and addiction through peer support and care coordination services since 2008, the Board of Veterans Services, Joint Leadership Council, and legislators recognized that additional resources were needed. Legislation was introduced and passed in the 2022 GeneralAssembly session to establish FDA’s New OTC Hearing Aid Reality from previous page The gold-standard will always be a thorough hearing test by an Audiologist, now including speech testing in background noise, and best practices when fitting hearing aids. Newer testing equipment can measure the response of any hearing aid, while the device is in someone’s ear. This testing documents the sound levels in that individual’s ear canal and verifies how the device is programmed to match someone’s hearing loss. Traditional hearing aids can also be tested to ensure the aid meets the manufacturer’s specifications for output and other electronic functioning. These tests are most often provided by Audiologists, who are now required to have a doctorate

and fund a Director of Suicide Prevention and Opioid Addiction Services within DVS. I was honored to be named to this position in September and am pleased to announce that currently, I am in the process of building a staff of four persons who will be solely dedicated to promoting veteran suicide prevention and opioid addiction services. Our

goal is to design a community grant to enhance best practices in suicide prevention and opioid addiction services across Virginia. We will begin awarding these grants in spring 2023. DVS is also working closely with the Governor’s Challenge To Prevent Suicides Among Service Members, Veterans and their Families (SMVF) to expand military culture, suicide prevention, suicide risk screening, and safety planning in community settings to build a safety net for military-connected individuals and families. The acronym for this overall suicide prevention program isVISR, which stands for Virginia’s Identify SMVF, Screen for Suicide Risk and Refer to Services. As part of VISR, DVS Benefits and VVFS team members – all of whom are trained in suicide prevention – have screened approximately 10,000 Virginia veterans and family members for suicide risk and connected them to community resources for support and counseling. They have also trained over 1,300 persons at our community partners statewide in military cultural competency and suicide prevention so they are prepared to understand, reach out and serve veterans and their families in need. Launched as a pilot program in 2020,VISR provides free education and training for community agencies to increase outreach and services to SMVF. DVS has partnered with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and George Mason University to launch VISR 2.0 in January 2023 and all community agencies are encouraged to enroll. Simply visit to enroll in the VISR 2.0 program. I look forward to continuing the agency’s focus on suicide prevention and opioid addiction services amongVirginia’s veterans and their families over the next year and beyond. I truly believe that together with our partners throughout the Commonwealth, we can be the leader in this nationwide effort. Angela Porter, Ph. D. is the Director of Suicide Prevention and Opioid Addiction Services at the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS). Before joining DVS in September 2022, she served as Chief Operating Office and President of Behavioral Health Alternatives and was Director of Counseling Services at Virginia Union University. She earned her B.S. in Administration fromVirginia Commonwealth University, a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Clark Atlanta University and a Ph.D. from Capella University. She can be contacted at degree. Patient outcomes are documented, using evidence-based practices and recommendations, ensuring the highest level of care and patient benefit. If this doesn’t appeal to some or isn’t an option for a particular person, a new option now exists for those who are interested. Kristin Koch, AuD, is an Audiologist with a private practice in Charlottesville. She currently serves the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia as the Vice President for Audiology. Dr. Koch is also an adjunct faculty member at James Madison University. For additional information, email to V V

V irginia C apitol C onnections , W inter 2023


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