As we continue to reflect during PTSD Awareness Month, we’re thrilled to highlight another remarkable Tillman Scholar who is putting their passion behind bettering the resources for the mental health of our veteran population.
Like many young Americans, 2018 Tillman Scholar Carl LoFaro joined the Army after college in 2005, seeking the sense of purpose and camaraderie omnipresent in military service. He enlisted as a mental health specialist and provided counseling to service members stateside and in Iraq. His most rewarding experience came during his deployment when, alongside a battle-hardened sergeant major, he made significant progress in changing an infantry battalion’s views on the acceptability of mental health care.
Carl went on to earn his doctorate in public health at the University of Colorado–Denver to better leverage his broad personal and professional experience to impact veterans mental health at a strategic level. His work reduces the burden of mental illness and suicide among those who selflessly served the nation.
Reasons for Living Lockbox
Most recently, Carl has been working on a new initiative called the Reasons for Living Lockbox with his colleague at the Department of Veteran Affairs, Natalie Thomas. They are currently building a prototype, after the VA selected the Reasons for Living Lockbox during an innovation contest called Sparks-Seed-Spread. As a mental health professional, Carl noticed that many suicidal veterans reconsidered their plans after thinking about a happier memory or loved one.
“We submitted our idea to the Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Investment Program, which was run by the Veterans Health Administration Innovators Network,” says Carl. “Natalie and I have been supported and mentored by Innovation Specialists Katie Braun of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and Dave Brimmer of VA New Jersey Healthcare System.”
While firearm lockboxes already exist, Carl describes them as “sterile;” Carl’s goal with Reasons for Living Lockbox is to take the traditional firearm lockbox, and put those happy memories within it. If a veteran tries to access their firearm in a Reasons for Living Lockbox, they will be met with “barriers” that they’ve put in place, such as family photos, familiar smells, recordings from loved ones, and even favorite foods.
“Our guiding question right now is ‘How might we create a tool for a veteran at high risk of suicide to choose life, by utilizing their reasons for living to make their environment safer?’
“Veterans with PTSD are at an increased risk for suicide,” says Carl. “When people get the tunnel vision of suicide, we try to knock that tunnel away and increase hesitation.”