UGA Program Helps Veterans Find Community, Mental Health Treatment
November 07, 2022

​Colleges and universities across the country have instituted programs to help the veterans in their communities overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. In observance of Veterans Day, ACE is highlighting one such initiative.

Veterans are particularly at risk for mental health issues, experiencing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and dying by suicide at significantly higher rates than the general population. They are also vulnerable to social disconnection, due to both difficulty reacclimating to civilian life and widespread perceptions among civilians that veterans have little in common with them. This isolation makes reaching and helping them challenging.

The University of Georgia, an ACE member, is addressing both social disconnection and mental health among veterans, whether they have ties to the university or not. Brian Bauer, a psychology professor and researcher at the university, has created a platform called the Continued Service Network, or CSN, that helps veterans develop personalized support networks and coping strategies.

Bauer submitted CSN to Mission Daybreak, a new initiative by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that solicited proposals from all sectors to end veteran suicide. CSN is one of 30 finalists—out of 1,371 applications—that the VA awarded $250,000 to refine their products. Later this month, the CSN team will pitch the platform at a Mission Daybreak event for a chance to win an additional $3 million.

“We started with the idea that if we’re only focusing on people who were going through a crisis and are currently at high risk, we’re going to lose the battle of suicide prevention,” Bauer told UGA Today about the concept for CSN.

The program has two elements: a website and a mobile app.

The website collects information about users, such as their health records, demographics, personality traits, and their role in the military. Before users provide this sensitive data, the system outlines how it will be used and allows them to leave any category blank. The website harnesses veterans’ collective wisdom, connecting users with each other so they can both provide and receive advice from people who they feel understand them. The site exploits a tendency among veterans to go to great lengths to assist other veterans while neglecting to seek help, according to Bauer, by enabling people to do both in one place.

Users can indicate on the site what information they’ve found helpful, and the app encourages them to apply it to their lives. The app analyzes the text users type on their phones, detecting rapid mood shifts and moments when they may need assistance. Depending on the severity of the situation, it can remind people of tips they received on the website, recommend treatments, or put them in touch with someone who can offer immediate help in an emergency.

In the long run, Bauer told UGA Today, he hopes CSN will “[assist] veterans and their family members build better lives to help prevent people from reaching high risk.”

Supporting Our Veterans

Since 1918, ACE has been committed to ensuring veterans and their families have the opportunity to succeed in higher education.

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