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Arkansas Governor’s Challenge

and the Empowering Veterans Project Information Summary

Since 2014, around 500 Arkansans have died by suicide each year.  While veterans make up about nine percent of our state population, they account for about eighteen percent of those losses.  Servicemembers in the active-duty force, their federal and state reserve components, and their families have also experienced high rates of suicide.  Unfortunately, unilateral--often uncoordinated--federal, state and community efforts over the past decade have not stemmed those rates.  


The Governor’s Challenge (GC) and the Empowering Veterans Project (EVP) are collaborative efforts, collectively orchestrated to reverse these trends.   The Governor’s Challenge (GC) to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families (SMVF) is a state team led technical assistance opportunity from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  Using strategic planning processes and tools, our Arkansas Governor’s Challenge team of over thirty representatives from across federal, state, and local agencies along with the private sector launched in the spring of 2021.  

The national Governor’s Challenge project determined three priority areas:   

  1. Identify SMVF and Screen for Suicide Risk

  2. Promote Connectedness and Improve Care Transitions

  3. Increase Lethal Means Safety and Safety Planning


The Arkansas Governor’s Challenge is developing an “Ask the Question” campaign to address the Identify and Screen priority to train providers to ask if individuals identify as SMVF and to better direct them to services.  


The Arkansas Department of Human Service and the EVP team will carry out a grant‐funded environmental scan of communities to identify needs, available services, and define resource gaps.  Complementing the environmental scan, in support of the Promote and Improve priority area, is Camp Connect.  Camp Alliance, an Arkansas non‐profit, developed Camp Connect as a resource and communications hub utilizing a web‐based interactive platform available via public kiosks or personal devices. SMVF who access Camp Connect are “asked the question” and informed on resources available to address their needs bridging the first two GC priority areas.  With Cares Act grant funding Camp Alliance is already deploying kiosks to locations where SMVF frequent.    


By partnering the Arkansas Department of Health, the VA’s Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, the Veterans Heath Care System of the Ozarks, and the EVP team have identified and will make available trainings for community providers and other partners to address Lethal Means Safety and Safety Planning.   

The success of our Governor’s Challenge will require a long‐term collaboration and collective, community directed public health approaches that involve federal, state, and private sector entities in support.  The GC effort while first focused on combating SMVF suicide will yield strategies and tools which we can apply across all Arkansas demographics.


The Empowering Veterans Project (EVP) is a two‐year $2.2million VA‐funded demonstration project carried out in collaboration with the GC effort.  EVP capitalizes on the VA’s Public Health Model developed for the VA’s Suicide Prevention 2.0 effort that combines community‐based and clinical‐based interventions.  It applies the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS).  PREVENTS is a multi‐federal agency effort empowering veterans to be engaged in their communities’ efforts to tackle suicidal ideation and its social determinants.  


EVP prioritizes recruiting and orienting individual veterans and veteran organizations to add their force to the community team.  Veteran organization posts, chapters, and detachments, along with individual veterans, are already fixtures in their communities and GC/EVP benefits from veteran leadership, commitment, and connectedness within their communities.  Empowered veterans serve their communities well and the work provides individual veterans with renewed purpose and veterans organizations with an impactful community mission.  


EVP will empower veterans by providing them with training and certifications to act as first responders in identifying suicide risk, intervening, and making appropriate referrals for support and health care.  This significantly grows the capacity to educate Arkansans on the importance of lethal means safety such as the safe storage of firearms in times of mental health crisis, a leading prevention strategy and the President’s top suicide prevention priority.


GC efforts that EVP is capitalizing on:   

  • The strategic planning process to develop and measure success of initiatives,

  • Cross federal, state, and local government agency, and private sector collaboration,

  • Community developed and powered efforts owned at the community level and supported by government resources, strategies, and trainings.


We are ready to launch combined GC and EVP pilot programs this summer in Garland, Hot Spring and Baxter counties.  We chose these communities because of their higher incidence of suicide and because of their current capacity and their willingness to incorporate GC and EVP programs in their community engagement efforts.  


Sustaining an ongoing effort will require commitments to: 

  • Develop a new statewide suicide prevention plan that employs GC planning strategies.

  • Establish a central coordinating entity, with staff and a budget, to prepare communities and focus interagency efforts.

  • Establish a top‐level, multi‐sector oversight group to ensure effectiveness of the state’s suicide prevention campaign.

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