Tiffany Benjamin, CEO of the Humana Foundation, talks about the campaign and why she’s optimistic it will make a difference.
At a time when Americans have been celebrating their freedoms during the July 4 holiday weekend, many veterans who served their country are suffering, and too many aren’t getting the help they need.
More than 6,000 veterans died by suicide in 2020, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Since 2001, more than 120,000 veterans have died by suicide.
Now, several groups have launched a new campaign, “Face the Fight,” to help prevent veteran suicides.
The USAA established the campaign, with the Humana Foundation and Reach Resilience, an Endeavors Foundation, as founding partners. The groups have committed an initial investment of $41 million to finance grants to support programs to prevent veterans’ suicides.
In an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Tiffany Benjamin, CEO of the Humana Foundation, expresses confidence that the campaign can help veterans get the help they need.
When discussing the number of veterans suicides, Benjamin says, “It’s sobering, and it’s preventable.”
The campaign will be focused on looking “at how can we support nonprofits that are doing work, specifically around veterans, and looking at grantees who can really focus aggressively on veteran suicide.”
The partnership will finance suicide prevention and training programs and help veteran service organizations and other groups that aid veterans. The campaign will also support fellowships to produce more qualified clinicians. Benjamin said telehealth will be one of the components to expand access to services for veterans.
Benjamin stresses that the campaign will aim to support those with a proven track record, and they’ll evaluate the success of the investments.
“We're looking at nonprofits who focus on evidence-based outcomes,” Benjamin says.
“We think philanthropy, in some ways, should run a little more like business in the sense that measurable outcomes matter, that we're using evidence and data to drive what we're doing,” she adds. “And so this is an initiative that is about addressing veteran suicide. But it's got metrics, it's focused on outcomes, it's looking at data, and it's constantly dynamically evaluating whether what we're doing is working.”
USAA has worked with experts from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the VA, the Defense Department, the RAND Corporation and nonprofit alliances to develop strategies to prevent veteran suicide.
Reach Resilience has committed $25 million over the next five years, and the USAA invested an initial $10 million in grants. The Humana Foundation is contributing $6 million over the next three years.
Much of the challenge involves eliminating the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.
“I think part of this work is about clinical intervention, but some of it is just about destigmatizing this,” Benjamin says. “Some of it is just about having a conversation around the fact that we all struggle. I mean, we're all human, right? And we all have challenges. And we just think it's important to at least start the conversation.”
“The point of the coalition is really that we can all raise awareness together,” she adds. “And so one of the really big components of this is just talking about it, and saying, ‘This is preventable.’ We have to have this conversation, we have to acknowledge that our veterans are important to us, and that they deserve access to support and care to address their mental health challenges, and frankly, just to talk about the fact that this is happening, and that we can prevent it.”
Sonya Medina Williams, Reach Resilience president and CEO, said she hopes to generate more conversations about mental health and veteran suicide, which she called “a national crisis.”
“An estimated 50,000 more veterans will die by suicide this decade if we don’t act now,” she said in a statement.
Benjamin says she’s excited about working with USAA and Reach Resilience, and she hopes the campaign will enlist other participants.
“Our goal is to get more and more organizations, no matter what sector they sit in, to get involved, because if you're talking about something as significant as this, for people who sacrifice for our country, we think really everybody should be engaged,” Benjamin says.
While Benjamin says there will be a focus on measurable outcomes, she also adds that they are looking at a lengthy commitment.
“We're not going to solve all of these challenges within a small period of time,” Benjamin says. “And building up a support network for veterans is something that takes time, it takes trust, it takes growth, it takes understanding. So this is definitely a long haul thing. And the more partners we get engaged, the more people who participate in the coalition, I think the stronger the coalition gets.”
Repeatedly in her interview with Chief Healthcare Executive, Benjamin stresses that veteran suicides can be prevented. She also says the campaign’s name, “Face the Fight,” is very fitting.
“We have to look at it,” Benjamin says. “And we have to examine it and acknowledge that this is a challenge and it's difficult. And so as long as we are focused on the population we're serving here, which is veterans, and really thinking about the very specific mental health challenges of people who served our country, and being open to conversation, we can really make an impact here.”
If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline.