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Surviving the first year: VA aims to prevent suicide after service

The Department of Veterans Affairs is checking in on former service members to help them navigate everything from mental health to home loans.

TAMPA, Fla. — One of the top officials for the Department of Veterans Affairs is in Tampa Bay to spread the word about a new program to help service members transitioning out of the military.

The VA Solid Start program is aimed at reducing the alarming rates of veteran suicide and helping newly separated veterans in their first year. 

Research has shown that within the first-year veterans are at a higher risk of suicide.

Margarita Devlin serves as the Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Veteran Benefits and oversees the new initiative. She explained that customer service representatives will reach out to veterans at least three times in that first year to touch base. Those representatives are trained to know all benefits available which go far beyond health care. 

She says they ask how the veteran is doing, how the transition is going and from there explain available benefits that could help ease the transition.

Credit: AP
Patrice Sullivan, whose boyfriend, a Marine, died from suicide, helps to remove 5,000 small U.S. flags representing suicides of active and veteran members of the military line the National Mall, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, in an action by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Solid Start launched in December. Devlin says the first call was to a female veteran who wanted to know more about whether the VA takes care of female veterans in the health care arena. Devlin says they were able to tell her about women’s health care clinics across the nation and encourage her to use her benefits.

Representatives will also let veterans know about free mental health resources available to veterans in the first year regardless of discharge status. Devlin says the proactive approach is changing how veterans view the VA and how the VA can support them.

“Many of our veterans don't recognize that they are veterans. Many of our men and women who served in the military, leave the military and don't think of themselves as veterans," Devlin said.

"So one of the key pieces we're doing with this is helping them to realize that they are veterans and they're entitled to veterans benefits even if they didn't see combat."

The VA estimates that they will work with about 200,000 veterans every year through the Solid Start program.

If you know a veteran who is struggling, please know there is help out there. You can call 800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat

You can also reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat online here.

RELATED: Military sees frustrating trend as suicides spike

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