Finalists in $20 Million VA Suicide Prevention Competition Showcase Proposals

A traditional conversation circle for Native American veterans and a website for storytelling with trusted elders. A program that requires gun safes to be locked for a predetermined period of time or to require permission from a second person to open them. A virtual reality headset for guards and inmates, veterans of both sides of the justice system, to use when stressed or depressed.

These are just a few of the 30 suicide prevention proposals presented by veterans at the Washington, D.C. office building Friday, as finalists in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Miss Day pageant pitched to judges in hopes of winning. Up to 3 million dollars, making their idea a reality.

“There’s nothing that I’m not impressed with, and there’s a couple of things that really bring a unique perspective to the problem,” Matthew Miller, the VA’s director of suicide prevention, told at the Mission Daybreak Demo Day. “I saw a unique perspective on lethal equipment, firearms safety, firearms. I saw a unique perspective, a plan, a unique application of risk prediction and integration of biometrics that was used on the Navajo Nation and Native veterans. That’s exactly what it was designed to do.” “There are so many ideas that have been combined into a plan that can be used by the VA.”

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The VA launched Mission Daybreak earlier this year to seek new perspectives and innovative ideas to combat the suicide epidemic that, despite declining in recent years, kills thousands of veterans each year.

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A total of 20 million USD can be drawn for the tournament. The 30 finalists received a $250,000 prize each, and 10 other non-finalists received a $100,000 “Promise Prize” each.

Two of the finalists will receive the top prize of $3 million, three runners-up will receive $1 million, and five runners-up will receive $500,000.

The department announced the finalists last month, after which the proposals went into an “acceleration” phase to be fine-tuned before Demo Day. Demo Day was not the only factor in determining the winner, and the finalists were given the opportunity to meet the judges in person, meet each other, and pitch to other interested VA and Pentagon officials and Congressional staff. others.

In a setup similar to a school science fair, each Friday finalist had a table full of videos, posters, or other materials, and the judges walked around each one with a memory stick and listened to the performance.

One of the finalists is Televeda, a web-based app offering where Native Americans can participate in support groups that incorporate their traditions and rituals. Their table was sparse, just a small woven table runner with arrowheads, but it seemed to attract a lot of interest from those who stopped by.

In addition to having fewer culturally recognized mental health resources, Native Americans face unique challenges that contribute to suicide more than the general veteran population, including historical trauma, said Mayank Mishra, founder and chief technology officer of Televeda.

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“Other professionals who study this population always come to the same conclusion: Embrace their traditional behavior and culture,” says Mishra. “However this ends up being an emotional or white paper, we hope to present here a scalable initial action plan that includes a culturally appropriate web interface and a method that can be applied to each tribe – agnostic symbols such as storytelling and talking circles.” surname using.”

There are also several suggestions for gun safety, including Vara Safety, which started out as a gun safe company that relied on biometrics to access safes, and has now developed an app that lets users who know they’re in trouble lock down their safes. time. The app allows users to enable two-way permission to open the safe, and allows them to send happy photos and videos of loved ones when the safe is opened.

There was also the Overwatch Project, an effort to educate veterans about gun safety with their fellow veterans. They attracted Demo Day attendees to their table with the unique hashtag “JustFKNAsk.”

“It’s basically a ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Drunk Driving’ model. Instead of alcohol and cars, we’re talking about guns and suicide,” Overwatch Project Executive Director Casey Woods said. “So if you have a friend who’s there to support them and help them and struggle, [you can ask] How are their firearms, can you hold them and protect them?”

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Other projects at the fair on Friday included BioMojo, which is developing a virtual reality program for prison guards and veterans to talk with AI therapists and friendly faces or de-escalate situations; Same Grain, which acts like a social networking site or dating app to help veterans have things in common to support each other, or to match veterans with therapists and other professionals; and a DSS team that uses artificial intelligence to help Veterans Crisis Line responders interpret the caller’s emotions and intentions.

The judges will now break down what they saw on Demo Day and the winners are expected to be announced by the end of the month. Miller said how quickly any of the winners would be covered by the VA would depend on the contracting process.

“The information available for the last two years, [which] Not including Mission Daybreak-type events, we’ve seen about a 10% drop in veteran suicides,” Miller said. “I’d like to see another 10% in two years, if not more, that’s creative and innovative.” Miller said. ideas.”

All 30 finalists for the show can be seen here.

— Rebecca Hiel can be contacted [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: VA Selects 30 Programs for Suicide Prevention Challenge

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