In February, the Mission Daybreak team headed to ViVE 2024 to discuss how VA is driving new suicide prevention innovations and showcase teams’ solutions. During the program, audience members had the opportunity to hear directly from Mission Daybreak teams Battle Buddy and ReflexAI before NeuroFlow also joined for live demos.

Watch the video and read on for program highlights.

During another ViVE session, Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal took to the stage to share how VA is using partnership initiatives such as Mission Daybreak to develop community-driven innovations and support systems, highlighting teams such as ReflexAI and Even Health. “Veteran suicide is a public health scourge. One Veteran dying by suicide is too many,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “One thing we noticed in the data, for example, is about 50% of Veterans who died by suicide have never interacted with VA at all. And so we knew we would need to leverage partnerships with every institution possible.”

Building an ecosystem of support

Hope serves as an anchor for people in crisis and those who want to help, and Mission Daybreak offers a chance to translate hope into action. By bringing fresh thinking, outside perspectives, and innovative concepts to suicide prevention, we can serve those who have served and provide meaningful support.

“We take what’s called a public health approach—meaning we understand you will not solve suicide with just clinicians,” said VHA’s Dr. Todd Burnett in his opening remarks. “It takes everyone being at the table if we’re going to make a difference for this. That’s our approach, both in VA and in what we’re doing to scale our interventions outside. And that’s where you all come in.”

Building off the work that began with the grand challenge, the mission brings Veterans, researchers, technologists, advocates, healthcare providers, health innovators, and service members together to collaborate and advance suicide prevention solutions.

“Mission Daybreak is still accelerating solutions,” said Dr. Amanda Lineau. “The challenge is over, but the mission continues.”

Developing equitable approaches to technology-supported innovations

During the session, Nicole Kerkenbush from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) moderated a panel discussion with VHA’s Dr. Amanda Lineau, Battle Buddy’s Skip Rizzo, and ReflexAI’s Sam Dorison about Mission Daybreak’s support for groundbreaking innovations. The panelists explored how new technologies can help expand access to support—but have to be thoughtfully designed during development, piloting, and implementation.

“Can we do it with live providers?” asked Skip Rizzo. “Certainly, we’ve got to make a better effort and extend the reach of live provider care. But for those that don’t have access or won’t have access, [or face] stigma, the lack of awareness of what’s available—that’s where we leverage digital technology to make these things more accessible and do it in an ethical, professional, science-based fashion.” Battle Buddy offers safety planning, suicide intervention modules, and interactive daily check-ins with a non-judgmental, virtual human companion available 24/7. The app can help create safety plans with Veterans and, paired with smart wearable technology that scans for biomarkers of distress, can prompt check-ins with Veterans that route them to their safety plans.

“How do we look at vulnerable populations who are at higher risk? We wanted to really target opportunities or solutions or innovations that were supportive of vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Amanda Lineau of the mission’s focus on advancing a range of suicide prevention solutions. “How do we ethically, thoughtfully, and in a trustworthy fashion test new technologies like artificial intelligence, large language models, and virtual, extended, and mixed reality?”

Meeting Veterans where they are

During the panel and following a fireside chat with Sarah D. Heath from the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL), Sam Dorison highlighted the need to ensure suicide prevention teams can meet the needs of all Veterans. ReflexAI is an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tool that can help the VCL train and maintain a team of responders by helping trainees develop hands-on experience through simulation training—before they take real calls from Veterans in crisis.

“Every single Veteran is different. They have a huge set of lived experiences and challenges in their life, as well as a lot of strengths and joys in their life that are also part of why they’re calling. And the reason we build the simulations the way we do is they’re completely different—completely different backgrounds, different branches of the military, different ages, different regions of the country, different personality traits, different ability to pursue mental health resources outside of the Veterans Crisis Line,” said Sam Dorison. “And being able to provide that real range of practice is really, really hard and often impossible to do manually.”

Leading the way in innovations to reduce Veteran suicide

The largest integrated health care system in the United States, VA has long led the way in innovations for the benefit of Veterans—and all Americans. Mission Daybreak stands as a leading example of how VA is building innovation coalitions to address the complex problem of suicide prevention. VA is now providing promising Mission Daybreak solutions with additional technical assistance, including human-centered design and learning, as well as piloting opportunities.

“Now the VA is digging in with the innovation network and all the things that they’re doing. It’s not your dad’s VA anymore,” said Skip Rizzo. “They are on the cutting edge of leveraging technology for a population that deserves our best efforts.”

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