Stand Together: Talking About Suicide

Talking About Military and Veteran Suicide

Experts discussed front-line efforts to prevent suicide among service members and veterans

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Suicide in service members and veterans, regardless of combat experience, has been the subject of increased national attention. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are risk factors for suicide, but they are only two of many factors that may increase suicide risk. Difficulty transitioning into civilian life, depression and, for those long separated from service, aging, loss of family and friends and other life transitions can also play a role.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16 — during Suicide Prevention Month — the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention convened a panel of experts from the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, along with people who have firsthand experience with suicide, to take a closer look at frontline efforts to prevent suicide and discuss how they’re supporting our nation’s heroes.

Panelists included:

CW4 Cliff Bauman

CW4 Cliff Bauman

Army National Guard, suicide survivor

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford W. Bauman is the survivor of an attempted suicide. After his suicide attempt, he realized he needed support. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, received treatment, and now believes that counseling has made him a stronger man — and a stronger soldier. He wants fellow soldiers to know that asking for help will not end their career in the military. Clifford’s 28-year career includes working at the U.S. Army Accessions Command, Training and Doctrine Command Headquarters, and Deputy Commanding General Initial Military Training. He later deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His military awards include the Soldier’s Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, and Army Commendation Medal.

Keita Franklin, Ph.D.

Keita Franklin, Ph.D.

Director of Defense Suicide Prevention Office, U.S. Department of Defense

Keita Franklin, Ph.D. is the director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, and is responsible for policy and oversight of the U.S. Department of Defense’s suicide prevention programs. Keita previously served as the head of the Behavioral Health Branch from 2009 until 2015 and had been charged with leading the integration of U.S. Marine Corps behavioral health programs. She also directed the policy, future planning, training, technical assistance, resource management, and advocacy efforts for 17 installations and over 200,000 Marines and families across the Corps.

Col. William Sean Lee

Col. William Sean Lee, D.Min.

Chaplain, Maryland National Guard, Partners in Care

Chaplain (Col.) William Sean Lee is the Joint Force Headquarters chaplain for the Maryland National Guard. William serves MG Linda Singh, the Maryland Military Department adjutant general, and is responsible for providing religious support to nearly 6,700 Maryland National Guard members and their families. In addition to his current assignment, William has served the Maryland National Guard as chaplain for the 115th Military Police Battalion, 136th Combat Support Hospital, 29th Infantry Division (Light) Division Support Command, and State Area Command Headquarters.

Lillie Mells

Lillie Mells, L.C.S.W., BCD

VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator, Hampton, Virginia

Lillie Mells is an Air Force veteran who was deployed in the military as a mental health provider. During her 15 years in the Air Force, she conducted individual and group military counseling sessions, and held clinics on issues such as domestic violence and drug and alcohol use. When Lillie left the service, she realized she still had a desire to serve; she now works in Virginia as a suicide prevention coordinator for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Caitlin Thompson

Caitlin Thompson, Ph.D.

Deputy Director of Suicide Prevention, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Caitlin Thompson, Ph.D., is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ deputy director for suicide prevention. Prior to this role, she spent five years as the clinical care coordinator for the Veterans Crisis Line hotline and chat service. A licensed clinical psychologist, she is assistant professor in the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry, where she completed a post-doctoral fellowship in suicide research. In 2012, she spent five months as the VA liaison for DoD’s Defense Suicide Prevention Office.

Capt. Aaron Werbel

Capt. Aaron Werbel, Ph.D.

Director, Midshipmen Development Center
Medical Service Corps, United States Navy

Capt. Aaron D. Werbel is director of the Midshipmen Development Center at the U.S. Naval Academy, were he oversees a professional staff providing counseling, education, and prevention services to midshipmen. Aaron is a member of the American Association of Suicidology, the International Association for Suicide Prevention, and the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. He was appointed by the secretary of defense as a member of the 2007 U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Task Force on Mental Health and the 2010 DoD Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces.

Jack Benson

Jack Benson [Moderator]

Action Alliance EXCOM member,
Co-lead, Public Awareness and Education Task Force

Jack Benson, a partner at Reingold, Inc., has more than 25 years of experience leading and advising companies, associations, and federal agencies on growth strategy, marketing and communications, and operational issues. He currently oversees several national mental health and suicide prevention campaigns, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Make the Connection and Veterans Crisis Line initiatives. He serves as chairman of the board for the Military Family Advisory Network and trustee of the Washington Waldorf School. He is a member of the executive committee of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and is co-lead of its public awareness and education task force.

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Resources for Journalists

Information and Data

Advanced training on covering suicide and mental health
The Poynter Institute offers a free course to help journalists and reporters gain a better understanding of mental health conditions, mental illness and covering suicide.

Five ways to prepare your newsroom to cover suicide effectively
Five quick tips from Poynter for journalists covering suicide.

Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide
Recommendations for responsible coverage of suicide, developed by leading experts in suicide prevention, public health, media organizations, and others.

2013 Department of Defense Suicide Event Report
This report provides the most recent data about suicides, attempts, and other suicide related behaviors among service members, organized by Service (Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy).

Related Resources

Coaching into Care
Coaching into Care provides a free coaching service for family and friends of veterans. Coaches help callers discover new ways to talk to their veterans about their concerns and treatment options. Coaches can be reached by calling 1-888-823-7458.

Make the Connection
Make the Connection offers veterans resources and support for mental health problems, as well as experiences such as transitioning out of service. Make the Connection offers self-assessments as well as a resource locator

Partners in Care
Partners in Care is a faith-based initiative that connects congregations with military personnel and their families who are in need of assistance. For more information on Partners in Care, please contact Col. William Sean Lee at

Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line
The Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line offer confidential, 24/7 support through a free hotline, text messaging service and online chat. All veterans, service members, and their loved ones can speak to a caring responder by calling 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1), sending a text message to 838255, or chatting online at

Veterans Crisis Line Resource Locator
The Veterans Crisis Line offers an interactive resource locator featuring Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, and community resources. Users can also search by zip code to find a local VA suicide prevention coordinator.

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