New York Governor's Challenge Conference 2021

On November 2nd and 3rd, the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth) hosted a virtual conference with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Veterans and their Families Technical Assistance Center, and the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services on veteran suicide prevention efforts and the impact of The Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Veteran Suicide in New York State.

Panelists provided insights on the progress made throughout New York; shared best practices for discussing suicide with loved ones; highlighted services aimed at identifying and addressing the needs of high-risk populations; and identified other innovative approaches to preventing veteran suicide.

Opening Remarks (David Sandman, Ph.D., President and CEO, NYSHealth)

On November 2nd, David Sandman, Ph.D., President and CEO, NYSHealth, offered opening remarks, highlighting policy work by the Foundation related to veterans and efforts by grantee partners to address veterans’ mental health and suicide.

Keynote (Matthew A. Miller, Ph.D., M.P.H., Executive Director, VA Suicide Prevention)

The keynote speaker was Matthew A. Miller, Ph.D., M.P.H., Executive Director, VA Suicide Prevention; Acting Executive Director, PREVENTS, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs. In his keynote, Dr. Miller shared an overview of the Governor’s Challenge and set the stage for the conference’s ensuing panels.

A Tough Conversation: Dispelling myths and sharing best practices for talking about suicide (Panel Discussion)

Following the keynote, Derek Coy, Veterans’ Health Officer, NYSHealth, moderated the first panel. Panelists were:

  • Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, Ph.D., Founder and Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project at Columbia University
  • Heather Kelly, Ph.D., Professional Staff Member, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Majority
  • Patrice Sullivan, Manager, Community Resources, Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS); Surviving significant other of Marine Veteran Sergeant Thomas J. Donaldson

The Governor’s Challenge and New York State: An overview, update, and look ahead (Panel Discussion)

Duane France, Co-Director, SAMHSA’s SMVF TA Center, moderated the second panel. Panelists were:

  • Michelle Cleary, Behavioral Health and Addiction Prevention Advocate
  • Joe Geraci, Ph.D., LMHC, Co-Director, Transitioning Servicemember/Veteran and Suicide Prevention Center (TASC), VA
  • Marianne Goodman, M.D., Director, Suicide Prevention and Care Center, James J. Peters Bronx VA Medical Center

Second Opening Remarks (Derek Coy, Veterans’ Health Officer, NYSHealth)

Derek Coy opened the second day of the conference, reflecting on the previous day’s key takeaways, sharing his own experiences as a veteran, and offering a look ahead to the next panels.

High-risk Populations: Identifying and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable (Panel Discussion)

Andrea Goldstein, Navy Veteran and National Security Professional, then moderated the panel. Panelists were:

  • Richard Brookshire, Co-Founder and Board Chair, Black Veterans Project
  • Wendy McClinton, President/CEO, Black Veterans for Social Justice
  • Ashton Stewart, Manager, SAGEVets Program, SAGE

Legal Services and Suicide Prevention: Innovative approaches beyond the clinical environment (Panel Discussion)

Benjamin Pomerance, Esq., Deputy Director for Program Development, New York State Division of Veterans’ Services, moderated the final panel. Panelists were:

  • Coco Culhane, Executive Director, Veteran Advocacy Project
  • Pete Kempner, J.D., Legal Director, Volunteers of Legal Service; Founder of New York Law School’s Veterans Justice Clinic
  • Beth Kubala, Executive Director, Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic, Syracuse University

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