Community leaders come together to discuss actionable strategies to prevent military and veteran suicide

Mountain view with American flag
Posted at 10:18 AM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 16:08:44-04

EL PASO COUNTY — On Thursday, the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County held an Executive Leadership Summit on Military and Veteran Suicide as area leaders come together for solutions to the issue.

You can watch a replay of the event on KOAA News5's digital and social platforms. KOAA News5 on your time, streaming on your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and AndroidTV.

Learn more about the community leaders taking part in this event by visiting the bottom of this article for their bios and experience.

The virtual event will contain 6 actionable strategies identified to help current military service members, veterans, and family members struggling with mental illness.

  1. Start at the Top: Get State and Local Leaders to Publicly Commit to and Coordinate Efforts on Ending Service Member, Veteran, and Military Family Suicide
  2. Identify Local Circumstances of Service Member, Veteran and Military Family Suicide
  3. Increase and Promote Suicide Prevention Collaboration Among Military and Veteran Serving Organizations
  4. Support widespread Suicide Prevention Training for All Military and Veteran Serving Organizations
  5. Support and Promote Lethal Means Safety Initiatives
  6. Provide Suicide Loss Survivor Resources to All Impacted by Suicide

Click here to read more on each strategy.

City of Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is taking part in the event. In his invite to community leaders he wrote, "Suicide is a complex and serious public health challenge that has claimed the lives of more than 600 Veterans in our community since 2004. Unfortunately, it is believed that El Paso County has the highest numbers of deaths by suicide in Colorado, due to its concentration of a largest number of Service Members and Veterans in the state."

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the toll is high across the state with 3,253 veteran deaths by suicide from 2004-2020.

That need for help is the drive behind SB-129, creating a Veteran Suicide Prevention Pilot Program, which was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis this week.

The Colorado Department of Human Services will provide funding to counties in order to provide no-cost behavioral health treatment for up to 700 veterans and their families, many in El Paso County. Read more: State lawmakers pass bill to prevent veteran suicide in Colorado

Other measures passed this year in the Colorado General Assembly include HB21-1065 Veterans' Hiring Preference, and SB21-032 Mobile Veterans-support Unit Grant Program.

For those who've served in the military, veteran suicide is a topic that hits close to home.

According to the most recent complete data from the Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report (2019) & the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2018):

  • 503 service members died by suicide in 2019
  • predominantly among young and enlisted members
  • additionally, 193 family members of military members also died by suicide in 2019
  • 17.6 veterans died by suicide daily in 2018
  • deaths account for 13.8% of all US suicides in 2018

The Rebound Colorado: One woman's mission to save military lives

If you or someone you know is struggling, there is help available 24/7.

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - When you call there is an option to talk with someone specifically on the Military Crisis Line.
  • Veterans Crisis Line - The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, anonymous, confidential resource that’s available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.


The Executive Leadership Summit on Military and Veteran Suicide hosted by the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County can be found on KOAA News5's digital and social platforms from 2:00-3:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 24. KOAA News5 on your time, streaming on your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and AndroidTV. Also, on KOAA News5's Facebook page.

Participants in this event:

Duane France, MA, MBA, LPC – Duane is a retired Army Non-commissioned Officer, combat veteran, and clinical mental health counselor. He is the Director of Veteran Services for the Family Care Center, a private mental health clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is also the Executive Director of the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency, a 501(c)3 nonprofit professionally affiliated with the Family Care Center. He is a member of the inaugural class of the George W. Bush Institute Veteran Leadership Program, a program that supports individuals from diverse sectors across the country who are motivated to increase their impact in helping our nation's veterans. In addition to his clinical work, he also writes and speaks about veteran mental health in a wide variety of settings.

Matthew A. Miller, Ph.D., M.P.H., Director, Suicide Prevention Program, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - Dr. Miller is the Suicide Prevention Program Director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In March 2020, Dr. Miller was sworn in as a Senior Executive and appointed officially as the Director, Suicide Prevention Program for Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention after serving as the Acting Director since June of 2019. Dr. Miller leads a team dedicated to the implementation and reinforcement of evidence-based community and clinical interventions addressing suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention for 19 million Veterans nationwide and 140+ VA healthcare systems. Dr. Miller previously served as the Director of the Veterans and Military Crisis Line (VMCL). Under his leadership, the VMCL became the world’s largest and most efficient suicide crisis call center. Prior to joining the VMCL as Director, Dr. Miller served at the local VA facility level as the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Saginaw (MI) VA Medical Center, as well as the Chief of Mental Health. Dr. Miller served as an Officer and Clinical Psychologist with the United States Air Force. He received his PhD from Michigan State University, East Lansing, and his MPH from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Lieutenant Andrew Cooper- Andrew is a Lieutenant for the Colorado Springs Fire Department, working in the Community and Public Health Division. Andrew supervises the Community Response Teams (CRT). Andrew has been a paramedic for 20 years and a firefighter/paramedic with CSFD for the last 17 years. Andrew is a board member on the Colorado Springs National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the current chair of the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County and also collaborates with community partners around youth suicide prevention and lethal means access and overdose prevention.

Cassandra Walton - Cassandra Walton serves as the Executive Director for Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership. This role has led her to become deeply involved in suicide prevention efforts across our community. Cassandra is a Colorado Springs native, in fact, born at Evans Hospital as her father was serving in the Air Force at the time of her birth. As Vice Chair of the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County, Cass is actively working with community partners to develop and implement suicide prevention policies with local organizations to ensure that as many people as possible are trained in suicide prevention and so that when tragedy strikes, there is a standard and streamlined way to ensure that those impacted have the support they need. Both of these actions are imperative components of suicide prevention.

Dr. Erik Wallace, MD, FACP - Dr. Wallace graduated from Washington University School of Medicine where he served as President of the Class of 2000. He then completed his residency training in Primary Care Internal Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2003. Following residency, he joined the Internal Medicine Faculty from 2003-2014 at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine in Tulsa where he served as Vice-Chair for Education for the Department of Internal Medicine, Internal Medicine Clerkship Director, and as the Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program. In 2014, he joined the University of Colorado School of Medicine as the Associate Dean for Colorado Springs Branch. He graduated from the Professionalism in Contemporary Practice course at the Stanford Faculty Development Center in 2005. He previously served as Chair of the National Council of Young Physicians in 2009 and as an ex-officio member of the Board of Regents for the American College of Physicians. In 2011, he received the Walter J. McDonald Award for Young Physicians from the American College of Physicians which recognizes outstanding achievement by a physician member who is within 16 years of graduating medical school. In 2015, he received the John A. Benson Jr., MD Professionalism Article Prize from the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation for his 2014 JAMA article on “Hospital Relationships with Direct-to-Consumer Screening Companies.”