Can a Mobile App Stop Veteran Suicides?

Jae C. Hong/AP

The VA is calling on industry to help build an app that can rapidly connect veterans to mental health resources.

The Veterans Affairs Department is calling on the private sector to share ideas for developing a smartphone application that can intervene when veterans are considering taking their own lives.

Almost 30 groups attended the VA’s industry day on Wednesday looking to get involved in building a suicide prevention app for the Veterans Health Administration. The project comes as part of larger effort to expand veterans’ access to mental health services

The app would roll out in stages, beginning with a pilot among 20 to 50 patients at the VA clinic in West Palm Beach, Fla., and ultimately expanding to include the entire veteran community, according to the project outline.

The first version of the app would include a help button that connects veterans directly to VA services—similar to a Life Alert system. Later versions would include tools for reducing stress, developing coping skills and creating a personal safety plan. The app would also notify agency health providers every time one of their patients clicks the help button.

Despite the VA rolling out a number of programs to help veterans cope with mental health issues—including apps for mindfulness and a crisis hotline—the suicide rate remains 22 percent higher among veterans than the general population.

“Every veteran suicide is a tragic outcome, regardless of the numbers or rates—one veteran suicide is too many,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said before a Senate panel in September. “We continue to spread the word throughout VA that suicide prevention is everyone’s business."

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