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Initiative seeks to unite healthcare providers in more effective treatment of veterans

Aaron Ashworth presents at a Project ECHO focused on veteran care.

A new initiative is focusing on reducing suicide and improving treatment for veterans.

Aaron Ashworth is the mental health and suicide prevention programs administrator for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. Speaking to healthcare providers Thursday through a new OSU ECHO program, Ashworth said veterans need to feel connected and need to feel like there is hope, and it’s important to remember key aspects of military culture when treating them.

“Some of their world view is different. From the very moment they hit boot camp, they start to kind of be reconditioned to military culture. A lot of times they are desensitized. They have coping skills, but the coping skills are more about ‘how do I desensitize myself to the things that I see, rather than learning coping skills to process through the things that I see,’” said Ashworth.

Ashworth said his goal is zero veteran suicide in Oklahoma.

“I’ve had numerous people applaud but also I’ve had a lot of critics. People are like, ‘that’s impossible.’ I don’t think it’s impossible. I just think our state and our communities need to be able to come together to be able to talk about what it looks like to actually be best practice oriented.”

Healthcare providers will meet virtually twice a month with Ashworth and others to exchange ideas.

According to most recent available data, Oklahoma has one of the worst veteran suicide rates in the nation. It’s significantly higher than the national suicide veteran rate and significantly higher than suicides in the general population.

For more information, visit the Project ECHO website.