Can $20 million and 40 Innovators Reduce Veteran Suicide? You’ll Know in November

Jerry Ashton
4 min readJul 24, 2022
Cover of LRT C-VESP Team Concept Paper — Art by Victor Guiza

In an act of desperation or a brilliant tactical stroke — or both — the Veterans Administration this spring launched a campaign called Mission Daybreak. Its purpose: to publicly reach out to locate innovators who can come up with suicide prevention solutions that can carve away at the average of 18–20 veterans per day who are taking their own lives — almost 700 per year.

The stats make clear the need to aggressively challenge these numbers.

After heart disease (at 20%), the second leading cause of deaths among veterans is suicide. In the U.S. adult population, heart disease at 38.8% is the leading cause of death, and suicide comes in ninth place at 1.8%. Vets comprise only 8% of the U.S. population, but 14% of Americans committing suicide in 2019–6,261!

In it to win it!

Over 1,300 individuals and organizations — including our own team from Let’s Rethink This (LRT) — submitted “Concept Papers” as a requirement to qualify as an entrant in this Grand Challenge. As the VA described them/us:

“From individual experts to transformative partnerships, solvers included veterans, veterans service organizations (VSOs’s), community-based organizations, health tech companies, startups and universities…from remote peer support and animal therapy to novel engagement approaches, the Phase I submissions proposed a range of new solutions…”

Wow — 1,371 entrants competing for 40 spots! To cull through the offerings, over 300 people have been selected as a “review panel” and are an amazing collection of experts spanning product development at VC and Tech firms to mental health researchers in academia and Veteran service experienced professionals at community-based organizations.

Moreover, “each eligible solution will be assessed by a mental health care professional or suicide prevention coordinator, a Veteran or family member of the Veteran, and a technical reviewer with relevant expertise in the submission focus area” will be tasked with locating those 40 outstanding thought leaders.

And that’s just Phase 1, which will last from now through mid-August when the finalists are announced.



Jerry Ashton

Navy Journalist veteran, co-founder and founder of the charities RIP Medical Debt and End Veteran Debt — co-creator of Let's Rethink This and "Impact Awareness"