MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock today joined healthcare professionals in Billings to announce veterans’ suicide prevention efforts through grants established by the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families.
“When our military members return home, we must do everything we can to honor the promises our country has made when the battle is over,” said Governor Bullock. “The Governor’s Challenge will implement the kind of innovations we need to tackle the public health crisis of suicide and support our veteran and military populations.”
The Governor’s Challenge on Suicide Prevention is a partnership between the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the US Department of Veterans Affairs, and state governments to implement public health best practices at the state level to prevent suicide among service members, veterans, and their family members. Montana was one of seven states selected by the federal government to participate.
A team consisting community members and state, federal, and local government officials, assisted by technical assistance by SAMHSA and the VA focused grants to support Montana organizations in the areas of universal screening, expanding peer support services in Montana, and enhancing resource referral programs. HB 696, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Karjala in the 2019 legislative session, provided $250,000 of state funding for the Governor’s Challenge to provide grants to support the best practices. The federal government sponsors a similar program for local governments called the Mayor’s Challenge. Billings and Helena host Mayors’ Challenges two of the 22 Mayors’ Challenges nationwide.
The following organizations were awarded grants through the Montana Governor’s Challenge:
Billings Urban Indian Health Center, $55,000
Engage Native American veterans to implement universal screening, including Ask the Question, and engaging Native American veterans in services at the BUIHWC programs.
Dog Tag Buddies, $20,000
Provide support to connect veterans with emotional support/service dogs.
Lewis & Clark County Health Department, $55,000
Promote connectedness and behavioral health recovery by increasing access to peer support programs and creating a peer-to-peer toolkit of best practices.
Riverstone Health, $35,000
Supplement existing universal screening protocols with the creation and implementation of a training curriculum to support integrated behavioral health and suicide prevention for non-clinical staff, and investing in a system to track initial and ongoing training needed and completed by staff members.
Yellowstone United Way 211, $75,000
Increase reliable access to the 211 make sure it is reliably available for the more than 95,000 active duty service members, veterans, and their families who live in Montana.
Veterans Navigation Network, $10,000
Train veterans to help other veterans navigate the unique challenges they face to their mental health through the development of a train the trainer course with continuing education credits.
“Native Veterans have played a unique role in serving the United States in that they fought for this country before this country fought for them. We can now honor them and those who went before by simply asking the question. The opportunity supported by the Governor’s Challenge on Veteran’s Suicide Prevention will allow Native America Development Corporation-Billings Urban Indian Health and Wellness Center the ability and the honor to offer much needed services that our Native Veterans deserve,” said Dr. Johnel Barcus, Billings Urban Indian Health & Wellness Center.
“Dog Tag Buddies is honored to be a part of the Mayor’s Challenge and the Governor’s Challenge. Bringing awareness and education to those who live with and serve our veteran community in order to help eliminate suicide among our veterans has always been a priority for our organization. This grant will allow us to provide Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training to our veteran groups throughout the State of Montana. It will also allow us to expand our footprint to help more veterans in Western Montana,” said DeeDe Baker, Executive Director, Dog Tag Buddies.
“HB696 has benefited RiverStone Health and the Billings Mayor’s Challenge team by providing needed funding—something that has been missing from the SAMHSA/VA sponsored initiatives. It has been extremely difficult to accomplish significant progress with nothing but technical assistance from SAMHSA/VA. Now with the funding from HB 696 we have the ability to better move forward local efforts to make Billings safer and healthier for all—especially service members, veterans, and their families. If we can make our community safer and healthier, then fewer people will find themselves in a situation where they ever consider suicide. Thus, by supporting the MT211 resources, Dog Tag Buddies, the Veteran’s Navigation Network, and training RiverStone Health non-clinical staff about trauma-informed practices, military cultural awareness with Psych Armor, and Question Persuade Refer “first-aid” training, and other suicide prevention strategies, we are creating a community that will prevent suicides and remove Montana from the staining reputation of being in the top three states with the highest suicide rates in the county,” said Claire R. Oakley, Director of Health Promotion at RiverStone Health and Bilings Mayor’s Challenge team lead.