Erie VA Medical Center
SPCs provide critical support to at-risk Veterans
Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPC) at the Erie VA Medical Center work with VA staff, behavioral health professionals, and Veterans and their families to assist Veterans during times of crisis.
Colby Mitchell-El, Brandon Wiley, and Shannon Brown currently serve as Erie VAMC’s SPCs, ensuring that Veterans receive the health care and support they need.
“The SPC department manages a caseload of about 70 Veterans who are flagged as high risk for suicide,” said Mitchell-El. “The SPC department responds to consults from the Veterans Crisis Line, provide suicide prevention education, and have increased community outreaches by almost 50 percent.”
For Wiley, working with Veterans in crisis is about giving back.
“I take pride in assisting our military men and women and helping them out in any way I can,” he said.
Brown said after having been affected by suicide personally, she wanted to use her education and experiences to help bring suicide rates down.
Communication between SPCs and Veterans that leads to a safer environment for Veterans is one of the best parts of her job, she added.
“The most rewarding part of this job is when a Veteran says they’ve been using their safety plan, feel relief after talking to an SPC or the Veterans Crisis Line, or when they’re willing to come into the Behavioral Health Clinic,” she said.
As rewarding as the job is, it does not come without challenges.
“The most challenging part of the job is having multiple concerns to address at the same time while needing to keep composure physically and mentally,” Brown said. “We refer to ourselves as ‘The SPC Dream Team’ because we function as a team to provide support to one another, our staff and our Veterans.”
That support includes assisting Veterans with crisis situations, acute inpatient mental health treatment admission, crisis support therapy, and suicide prevention education.
“I want Veterans to know that they don’t have to bear the burden alone,” Mitchell-El said. “The SPC department is able to assist a Veteran if they are seeking inpatient mental health treatment, need to connect to mental health services, or are in crisis.”
The Suicide Prevention team provides information to family members of Veterans as well.
“Family members are encouraged to become familiar with suicide prevention and know what they can do to help a family member in a crisis related situation occur,” said Wiley.Moving forward, the team hopes to grow their program, increase their connection to local community facilities to better serve the population in order to decrease suicide rates and get more Veterans engaged in Behavioral Health services.
For more information on Behavioral Health resources at Erie VA Medical Center please call 814-860-2038.
The Veteran Crisis Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or via text at 838255.