The Department of Veterans Affairs announced last month the 10 winners of Mission Daybreak, a $20 million grand challenge aimed at developing innovations to reduce suicides in the veteran and military-connected population.
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VA today announced the 10 winners of Mission Daybreak, a $20 million grand challenge to reduce Veteran suicide. Mission Daybreak is part of VA’s 10-year strategy to end Veteran suicide through a comprehensive, public health approach.
VA launched the multiphase challenge in May 2022, receiving more than 1,300 concept submissions in Phase 1 from Veterans, Veteran Service Organizations, community-based organizations, health tech companies, startups and universities.
“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.”
Winners awarded for their innovative suicide prevention solutions
The multidisciplinary judging panel—representing a diversity of perspectives, from Veterans and clinicians to social workers and technical experts—evaluated submissions from the 30 finalists in Phase 2. The panel recommended the 10 winners based on the official evaluation criteria.
The two first-place winners will each receive $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.
The three second-place winners will each receive $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.
The five third-place winners will each receive $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, which is a precursor to suicidal thoughts and behavior, and is common to PTSD, psychosis and severe depression. 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; it also provides 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.
Using open innovation to foster solutions capable of preventing suicide on a large scale
Open innovation challenges like Mission Daybreak can accelerate the development of solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. By providing no-strings-attached financial and non-financial incentives, facilitating partnerships and mentorship, and even helping to secure commercial commitments, open innovation can shepherd and speed novel ideas to become viable prototypes. The finalists participated in a virtual accelerator program designed to help them develop ambitious but achievable roadmaps for prototyping, iteration, testing and evaluation.
To learn more, visit missiondaybreak.net.
SoldierStrong has been named a winner in Mission Daybreak, a $20 million U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grand challenge to reduce Veteran suicides. In Mission Daybreak, SoldierStrong partnered with the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies as part of team Battle Buddy. As a second place winner, Battle Buddy will receive $1 million.
SoldierStrong and USC-ICT were recognized for their efforts to advance the use of technology to prevent suicide through Battle Buddy, a virtual human-led mobile mental health and wellness application. This interactive, embodied conversational agent leverages content related to the VA’s Safety Planning program embedded within brief daily check-ins with veterans. The Virtual Human will also allow veterans to opt-in to connect their wearable sensors to the app, leveraging sleep, exercise, vocal analytics and other sensed signals to their overall well-being.
Following Phase 1, 30 challenge finalists each received $250,000 and advanced to the Phase 2 virtual accelerator program, which helped them develop ambitious but achievable roadmaps for prototyping, iteration, testing, and evaluation. Technology partners supporting the accelerator included Amazon and Microsoft. In November 2022, finalists had the opportunity to speak about their solutions with challenge judges and representatives from VA, VSOs, Capitol Hill, and policy institutes at Demo Day, held at the Samsung Executive Briefing Center in Washington, D.C.
The multidisciplinary judging panel — representing a diversity of perspectives, from Veterans and clinicians to social workers and technical experts — evaluated submissions from the 30 finalists in Phase 2. The panel recommended the 10 winners based on the official evaluation criteria.
Following Mission Daybreak, VA may engage with select solutions through contracts, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), or other partnership vehicles.
Visit MissionDaybreak.net for more information on the challenge.
SoldierStrong is honored to announce a partnership with the Tucson, Ariz., manufacturer Bottle Breacher to provide critical state-of-the-art technology to treat veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress.
Money raised through the effort will fund SoldierStrong’s efforts to donate BraveMind virtual reality software and hardware systems to Veterans Affairs medical centers. Chris Meek, who co-founded SoldierStrong after his experiences at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, said it costs $15,000 to place the BraveMind program at a single VA hospital.
“Five VA hospitals have expressed an immediate need for the technology. We owe it to our nation’s heroes to ensure the VA can provide critical mental health treatment to those who have defended our freedom,” Meek said.
The Bravemind system, developed by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, delivers prolonged exposure therapy. This evidence-based treatment method allows therapists to recreate the scene of the veteran’s troubling memory in a virtual reality headset. It safely enables the veteran to relive and deconstruct that memory with the aid of a licensed therapist to better cope with the trauma it created.
Bottle Breacher owners Amber and Mike Wall said their 20 years working in the corporate world fueled their desire to own their own business and to help America’s veterans. “We understand what it takes to produce meaningful results, and why it’s important to support nonprofits that do the same thing. SoldierStrong produces results and changes lives with every donation,” Amber Wall said. “Those are just two reasons why we’re passionate about SoldierStrong’s BraveMind program, which helps veterans living with PTS.”
Mike Wall said their company, which specializes in .50 caliber shell bottle openers in a variety of finishes, colors and themes handcrafted by veterans, is partnering with SoldierStrong through the end of the year to donate up to 15 percent of all purchases through their website, bottlebreacher.com, that use the promo code “SoldierStrong.”
Meek praised the Walls’ commitment to employing veterans and their desire to give back to America’s servicemen and women. “SoldierStrong is enthusiastic about partnering with and supporting veteran-focused businesses,” he said. “The Walls and Bottle Breacher are having a positive impact not just on the veterans they employ and American manufacturing, but also on the community of military veterans all across the country. The same integrity and dedication that its people devote to their work will make a difference in the lives of veterans recovering from the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress. It’s a true honor to have the support of and partnership with Bottle Breacher to benefit the lives and mental health of our veterans.”
To date, SoldierStrong has donated 24 BraveMind systems and other state-of-the-art medical technologies valued at more than $5.2 million to medical facilities across the country. The nonprofit’s goal is to make the BraveMind technology available to veterans in all 50 states.
Today we have the opportunity to change a much deserving veteran’s life for the better!
This Giving Tuesday you are undoubtedly receiving a plethora of requests from many of the organizations that hold a special place in your heart. Just like so many other organizations that are spearheading initiatives heading into the holiday season that are worthy of your time and contributions, we too here at SoldierStrong are requesting the immediate support of red, white and blue-loving patriots to help us change a veteran’s quality of life forever.
Last year SoldierStrong launched a new program by partnering with the iconic Dean Kamen and his company, Mobius Mobility, to deliver the iBOT ® Personal Mobility Device to our nation’s heroes. Dean is an engineer, inventor and businessman, who is perhaps best known for his invention of the Segway. However, we here at SoldierStrong believe that one of his most important pieces of work is the iBOT ® PMD – if you haven’t seen it in action yet then we want to make sure that you know just how incredible it truly is!
The iBOT ® PMD removes many barriers so that those who are confined to a wheelchair can more easily enjoy everyday activities again – often these are activities that most of us take for granted. The iBOT ® PMD allows for improved mobility, social interaction and the ability for users to experience the world around them at standing level. Activities like dancing with your spouse, going up and down stairs, having conversations at eye level, traveling on a variety of terrains like beaches and sidewalks, and even being able to take a dog for a walk, are not only made possible but they are made enjoyable again.
Imagine not having the ability to partake in these activities and the added stress this inability could potentially cause on your everyday life, as well as the everyday experience of loved ones. With the iBOT ® PMD those limitations are removed! The technology is changing the lives of veterans from across the country for the better and in turn, reflects what SoldierStrong values and strives for. Our focus as an organization is to provide life-changing, revolutionary equipment and groundbreaking therapy to our nation’s heroes.
Last year through the generous support of Americans from across the country, SoldierStrong was able to donate an iBOT ® PMD to a veteran just in time for Christmas. In fact, when U.S. Army Veteran Peter Townsend received a donated iBOT ® PMD, he had this to say: “It’s amazing the type of terrain this thing can travel on. I’ve been outside almost non-stop with it. This machine has truly been life changing. It makes me feel like a new person. I’m doing things I haven’t been able to do for years and I am so thankful.”
On this Giving Tuesday, we know of another deserving veteran that is in immediate need of the iBOT ® PMD. Our greatest hope is that we will be able to donate a device to him this Christmas. And you have the ability to help us make this a reality today!
The price tag on the iBOT ® PMD is $35,000, which can make it extremely difficult for many veterans to purchase on their own. But when broken down, it is more than doable for SoldierStrong to make these donations with the help of our loyal supporters. We only need 1,000 patriots to contribute $35 today in order to surprise another veteran in need with their very own iBOT ® PMD this Christmas. We believe with your help this wish will become a reality!
Today, SoldierStrong humbly asks that you make a huge impact in the life of this veteran by giving your very best gift. Whatever amount you give, we value your support. The life-changing donations we make are only possible because of the generosity of people like you that want to give back to those that served our great nation.
We kindly implore you to give your best gift to this initiative! Whether your gift is $15, $35, $100 or even $1,000, all donations are critical to our efforts. Perhaps you might even be blessed with the ability to fund the cost of an entire iBOT ® PMD.
Whatever your giving capacity is, we are forever grateful for your support to help us gift a true American hero with their very own iBOT ® PMD. Let’s work together this Giving Tuesday and give back to our nation’s heroes. Together we can make it happen!
The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation and SoldierStrong today announced donations to the Orlando VA Healthcare System to help injured veterans take their next steps forward in life. The donation included a robotic exoskeleton, which aids in the rehabilitation of veterans who have spinal or brain injuries and can help a paralyzed person walk while using the robotic suit, and an innovative virtual reality system that assists in the treatment of veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress.
“The heroic service of our country’s veterans often includes life-long sacrifices related to their physical and mental health,” said Dick and Betsy DeVos. “SoldierStrong’s revolutionary SoldierSuit technology provides fulfillment and restores joy to veterans by allowing them to reap the physical and emotional benefits of completing everyday activities we take for granted, like getting a cup of coffee, unloading the dishwasher, or walking home with kids from school. We are humbled to be able to provide a SoldierSuit and BraveMind system to the Orlando VA and are deeply grateful for everything veterans have done to protect and uphold America’s freedom.”
Mr. Brady Atomos, one of the many Veterans that will reap the benefits of this immense donation says, “I would like to extend my gratitude to the gracious contribution the donors have given. This machine will change the lives of the veterans that will have the opportunity to train in it. Physical disability is a dramatic shift in life, and the experience to get back even a tiny fraction of what was lost is an enormous stride forward. You have granted hope to many people who have been put in what seems like the face of impossible odds of recovery. Thank you very much.”
SoldierStrong’s BraveMind virtual reality system allows veterans to recreate scenes of war to help them open up about their experiences and work through their emotions with a therapist. The VR equipment gives therapists the ability to customize the world in the virtual reality headset to carefully match an incident’s setting, including sights, sounds and smells.
SoldierStrong, a Stamford, Conn.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing advanced medical technologies to help injured veterans lead full lives, has donated virtual reality (VR) hardware and software systems to 22 VA medical centers across the country as part of its focus on reducing post-traumatic stress.
“Virtual reality treatment shows promise in two key areas,” said SoldierStrong co-founder Chris Meek. “It is both clinically effective, and it reduces the stigma that many service members feel about seeking treatment for their post-traumatic stress. With the rise in popularity of virtual reality in non-medical settings, such as video games, entertainment, and even the workplace, there’s convincing evidence that younger veterans will be more inclined to seek treatment using VR techniques than other methods.”