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VA, partners address vets' mental health

Commercial-News - 9/8/2018

Sept. 08--DANVILLE -- "Is everything OK? Can I help you?"

Those simple words can make all the difference to a person in crisis. Those words show that someone cares -- something a suicidal person needs to hear.

That's one message imparted Friday during the sixth annual Mental Health Summit, sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System.

About 50 professionals from a wide area braved the weather to attend the conference at Danville Area Community College'sBremer Theater.

The purpose of the summit was to bring together key stakeholders in the community with the goal of enhancing access to mental health services and addressing the mental health care needs of veterans and their family members.

Regarding suicide prevention, everyone can save a life, said Marcy Kujawski, summit co-coordinator and mental health social work lead at the VA.

"It's everybody's business, whether you're trained or not," she said before the summit started. Just an act of kindness or being on the lookout for signs of suicidal thoughts can help save a life.

After past summits, she said, people have said how important it is for the VA and the community to connect and address this problem together.

"It makes sense to be talking to make sure we're doing our job," Kujawski said.

Diana Carranza, associate director at Illiana, said in her opening remarks, "This summit is important to what we do. We couldn't do this alone. We rely heavily on the community."

The goal of the VA and its partners is to make sure veterans have access to mental health services.

"It really does take a village to help our veterans get the care they need," she said.

Illiana serves 33,000 veterans in 30 counties, stretching from the Kankakee area, Peoria, Mattoon and into Indiana.

Nicole Gorman, suicide prevention coordinator at the VA, told the audience that the Illiana staff makes 45 outreach efforts a month to veterans; the VA standard is five a month.

"We're No. 1 in the nation with suicide prevention outreach," she said, adding it's important to get veterans in crisis to be seen by a professional as quickly as possible.

Suicide prevention is the No. 1 VA mental health priority, she said.

The audience had a chance to watch the feature-length documentary, released earlier this year, "Suicide: The Ripple Effect," which highlights the journey of Kevin Hines. At 19, Hines tried to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He survived and now is a well-known mental health advocate, motivational speaker and author who spreads a message of hope, recovery and wellness.

The summit also featured Gorman speaking on VA suicide prevention and lethal means safety (objects used to attempt or complete suicide), remarks from veterans and a panel discussing community perspectives on suicide prevention.

Attending the summits were people from a variety of disciplines, including those who work in health care, mental health, veteran homelessness, private practice counseling, education and the National Guard, which has family assistance programs.

The attendees came from the immediate area, as well as Decatur, Springfield, Peoria, Bloomington and Champaign-Urbana.


--The Veterans Crisis Line is (800) 273-8255; press 1. It serves veterans, their family members and friends.

You also may have a confidential chat at or text to 838255.

--The site supports providers, veterans, families and communities, and offers virtual and real-world tools.

--Another helpful site is

--If you or someone you love needs help, call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255), or visit

--Another good site is (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), which offers online training.


(c)2018 the Commercial-News (Danville, Ill.)

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