New suicide prevention solutions will save Veterans’ lives.
Suicide is a serious public health issue that has a disproportionate impact on the Veteran community. Preventing Veteran suicide is VA’s top clinical priority and a top priority of the Biden-Harris Administration.
This month, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced 10 winners of Mission Daybreak, a $20 million grand challenge to reduce Veteran suicides. Mission Daybreak is part of VA’s 10-year strategy to end Veteran suicide through a comprehensive, public health approach. The grand challenge, designed and produced by Luminary Labs through a contract with Capital Consulting Corporation, is one of the largest cash prize purses in federal history.
“Our Veterans need and deserve suicide prevention solutions that meet them where they are, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, and that’s exactly what Mission Daybreak has delivered,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Shereef Elnahal, M.D. “By drawing on a range of focus areas and life experiences, the Mission Daybreak winners have developed innovations that will save Veterans’ lives — and there’s nothing more important than that.”
Watch a recording of the virtual announcement.
Suicide has no single cause, and no single strategy can end this complex problem. That’s why Mission Daybreak engaged a diverse group of innovators and fostered solutions across a broad spectrum of focus areas. The multiphase challenge launched in May 2022 and received more than 1,300 concept submissions in Phase 1 from Veterans, Veteran Service Organizations, community-based organizations, health technology companies, startups, and universities — with solutions ranging from lethal means safety concepts, to targeted virtual care programs, to other promising suicide prevention solutions that offer healing and recovery to Veterans.
In September, Mission Daybreak announced Phase 1 awards: 30 finalists each received $250,000 and advanced to the Phase 2 virtual accelerator program. In recognition of their solutions, an additional 10 teams each received a Promise Award of $100,000.
The Phase 2 virtual accelerator helped finalists develop ambitious but achievable roadmaps for prototyping, iteration, testing, and evaluation. Accelerator resources included interactive learning modules, mentorship and technical assistance from experts, networking opportunities, and exclusive access to custom synthetic VA datasets — as well as cloud computing access and technology partner support from Amazon and Microsoft. In November, the 30 finalists showcased their suicide prevention solutions at Demo Day, an in-person event hosted by Samsung at its Executive Briefing Center in Washington, D.C.
A multidisciplinary judging panel — representing a diversity of perspectives, from Veterans and clinicians to social workers and technical experts — evaluated Phase 2 submissions from the 30 finalists. The panel recommended the 10 winners based on the official evaluation criteria.
Meet the winners
Two first-place winners each received $3 million:
- Stop Soldier Suicide’s Black Box Project is a technology solution that identifies and analyzes data from digital devices of Veterans who died by suicide to develop machine learning models that can identify never-before-known risk patterns. Paired with evidence-based, suicide-specific intervention services, the Black Box Project will accelerate precision methodologies in suicide prevention for the Veteran community.
- Televeda’s Project Hózhó is the first mental health app and comprehensive operational plan for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations. Televeda designed the tool in partnership with AIAN and Veteran communities for Navajo Veterans with plans to adapt and expand for use with other tribes. The solution incorporates traditional healing practices like storytelling and talking-circle interventions to reduce Veteran suicide and improve access to VA resources.
Three second-place winners each received $1 million:
- ReflexAI is an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tool that can help the Veterans Crisis Line train and maintain a team of responders that can meet the needs of every Veteran who reaches out. The tool utilizes a three-pronged approach of simulation, feedback, and quality assurance, which is nationally recognized as an innovative and responsible use of AI in crisis services.
- Sentinel is a mobile app designed to reduce Veteran suicide by encouraging safe storage of firearms. The application integrates smart firearm and medication locking devices with a Veteran-specific learning and community support network that facilitates strong connections with other Veterans, family, and friends.
- Battle Buddy is a virtual human-led mental health and wellness application that promotes resiliency among Veterans at risk for suicide. The application’s interactive, conversational AI utilizes content from VA’s Suicide Safety Planning program during brief daily check-ins with Veterans. The mobile application will also connect with wearable sensors to leverage sleep, exercise, and other health signals. Battle Buddy is a partnership between the USC Institute for Creative Technologies and the SoldierStrong Foundation.
Five third-place winners each received $500,000:
- Even Health’s Cabana® is a virtual reality-based group support platform for Veterans who have survived a suicide attempt. The solution adapts an established support group model shown to reduce suicide and associated factors as well as increase resilience and a sense of belonging.
- NeuroFlow is a two-sided technology platform that offers Veterans tailored resources and digital care 24/7 while measuring their evolving behavioral health needs to inform care teams of potential crises before they happen. Providing virtual and in-person support for Veterans who would typically fall through the cracks, NeuroFlow assesses and triages Veterans and caregivers to get them to the right level of behavioral health care and community services based on their available benefits, geography, and clinical presentation.
- Overwatch Project is a peer-based intervention program that empowers Veterans to intervene with at-risk buddies, offering to temporarily hold onto their guns or take protective storage measures before it is too late. This comprehensive program includes training, community engagement, and communications initiatives crafted in a direct, authentic Veteran voice. The Overwatch Project, an initiative of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit FORGE, aims to transform the conversation about firearms and suicide prevention through an approach modeled after the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign.
- OxfordVR’s gameChange, a digital therapeutic with the Food and Drug Administration’s Breakthrough Device designation, treats severe social isolation common to PTSD, psychosis, and severe depression, and a precursor to suicidal thoughts and behavior. Through virtual reality gameChange offers an immersive and scalable opportunity to treat Veterans where they are before a crisis moment.
- Team Guidehouse’s data platform integrates social determinants of health and social media data into the health record and an external dashboard to identify Veterans at risk in real time and provide actionable insights for suicide prevention. Team Guidehouse is a partnership between Red Hat and Philip Held, Ph.D., Rush University Medical Center.
Following Mission Daybreak, VA may engage with select solutions through contracts, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), or other partnership vehicles.
If you’re a Veteran having thoughts of suicide or you know one who is, contact the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7/365 days a year. Dial 988 then press 1, chat online, or text 838255.
Mission Daybreak Demo Day photo by April Renae (November 4, 2022).