Army Chief of Chaplains joins VA holiday webinar on wellbeing and suicide prevention

By Eric JorgensenDecember 9, 2020

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Chaplain (Major General) Thomas L. Solhjem, the Army's Chief of Chaplains, joined a special holiday webinar on December 8, 2020. The webinar was hosted by the Veterans Administration (VA) Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiative (CFOI), with a special focus on honoring and encouraging America's veterans and their families for their service and sacrifices. The webinar's topic was how faith can be a resource for personal wellbeing and mental health during the winter holiday season.

Holidays often spark spiritual reflection, and sometimes spark spiritual distress. The VA CFOI assembled a diverse panel of individuals for the webinar, to share messages of hope for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.

The VA COFI is connected to the interagency task force responsible for the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide, also known as PREVENTS.

PREVENTS is an innovative national plan for the prevention of suicide at the national and community levels. A critical message from the PREVENTS team is that American society needs to change the culture surrounding mental health and suicide, in order to encourage veterans — as well as our nation's active military service members — to be open to talking about and addressing mental health in general and suicide in particular.

Suicides by military members still in uniform have been reported to be as many as one every three to four days, with numbers trending higher since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even one life lost to suicide is one too many, but the trend is alarming, especially when we consider that suicide is now the second leading cause of death among Americans 18-34 years old – and the majority of active American military service members are 30 years old and younger.

As the Army's Chief of Chaplains, Major General Solhjem regularly emphasizes the following five things related to personal wellbeing, mental health, and suicide prevention:

1) Every single person has spiritual needs, because all human beings are spiritual by design, including all military service members and veterans, no matter how tough anyone thinks they might be.

2) We all benefit from spiritual awareness and spiritual practices that help to meet our spiritual needs.

3) Spiritual practices are most effective in communities of loving people, including religious communities and non-religious communities.

4) Our nation’s leaders all have a responsibility to help meet the spiritual needs of those in their care, because spiritual needs are basic human needs.

5) We will not get the resilient military service members, veterans, or Americans we want – and need – without helping to meet the spiritual needs they have.

In support of his messaging on personal wellbeing, mental health, and suicide prevention, Major General Solhjem kicked off the United States Army Chaplain Corps #ReachOne campaign during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September 2020. #ReachOne challenges each member of the Army to look within their circle of influence, to reach out to others, one at a time, who may need an encouraging word and some assistance finding resources for more help. The #ReachOne posters included with this story contain information about some of those resources.

VA COFI holiday webinar panel participants on December 8 included the following, in addition to Major General Solhjem:

  • Conrad Washington, Director, VA CFOI
  • Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, Executive Director, PREVENTS Task Force
  • Dr. Juliana Lesher, National Director, VA Chaplain Service
  • Dr. Donna Ames, Staff Psychiatrist, West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Systems
  • Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary for the National Council of Churches
  • Pastor Mark E. Whitlock Jr, Senior Pastor, Reid Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, Glenn Dale, Maryland
  • Rabbi Ron Li-Paz, Co-Leader, Valley Outreach Synagogue & Center for Jewish Life, Los Angeles, California

The PREVENTS Roadmap - June 2020.pdf [PDF - 1.6 MB]