New York National Guard leaders discussion suicide prevention during Friday workshop

Media Advisory

LATHAM, NY (09/14/2017) (readMedia)-- New York National Guard leaders will dicuss suicide prevention strategies during a Behavioral Health Workshop Friday at Division of Military and Naval Affairs headquarters in Latham.

Two internationally recognized experts in the field will keynote the workshop presentations: Dr. Kelly Posner, Founder and Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project and Kim Ruocco, Chief External Relations Officer for Suicide Prevention and Postvention for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and surviving spouse of Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco.

Ruocco will speak about reducing risk for suicides and promoting healing after intervention while Posner will discuss "The Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale" and how to help the Department of Defense save lives.

Members of the press are welcome to cover the presentations.

WHO: New York National Guard members, Kelly Posner, Ph. D., Founder and Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project and Kim Ruocco, MSW , Chief External Relations Officer for Suicide Prevention and Postvention Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

WHAT: The primary audience of the workshop is National Guard personnel most likely to encounter and assist members in crisis: behavioral health officers and civilian contract counselors, chaplains, chaplain assistants, sexual assault victim advocates, medical providers, battalion and company level leaders, civilian contractors, and family support organizations.

WHEN: 9 a.m. Friday, September 15, 2017.

WHERE: Latham Armory, 330 Old Niskayuna Road, Latham N.Y 12110

Coverage Opportunities:

Reporters can obtain visual and still imagery of Soldiers participating in the workshop. Interviews with speakers, experts and military personnel attending workshop can be arranged.

For access to this military facility, reporters must contact Capt. Jean Marie Kratzer, Public Affairs, 518-786-4518. Media must arrive by 8:45 a.m.


Suicide Prevention is a 365-days-a-year effort and a top priority for Army senior leaders, said Lt. Col. Luis Garcia, the New York National Guard Deputy State Surgeon.

"We have seen an increase in Soldiers seeking assistance when they can't cope with their life situation. This is excellent," said Maj. Gen. Raymond Shields, commander of the New York Army National Guard in a message to the force earlier this year. "However, we need to ensure there is never a command climate which makes a Soldier feel uncomfortable for seeking assistance."

Shields stresses the need for commanders and leaders at all levels to reinforce the Army's values with New York Soldiers to practice and live up to duty, self-less service, integrity, and personal courage - to help them make smart choices.

The workshop training is designed to build those skills among the community of experts to assist members looking for assistance or resources.

"Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in America, and within our own military community," said Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in a letter to the force on September 6. "As of August 28, 2017, 80 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen have committed suicide in 2017 (nationwide)."

"We all must remain vigilant and ready to personally engage our fellow Guardsman. I am encouraged when I see improved intervention across the force," Lengyel said.

Keynote speakers:

Dr. Kelly Posner:

Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, professor at Columbia University, is the founder and director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project, a member of the board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and is an international leading expert in suicide and depression.

The U.S. Department of Defense and called her work "nothing short of a miracle", is central to their National Strategy, and stated "her effective model of improving the world will help propel us closer to a world without suicide". Her work has helped the U.S. Marine Corp achieve a 22% reduction in suicide.

Posner Gerstenhaber's work has been noted in a recent keynote speech at the White House and has been presented to Congress. The President of the American Psychiatric Association noted her work "could be seen as really a watershed moment, like the introduction of anti-biotics..." Israeli government officials said her work "is not only saving millions of lives but in Israel it is literally changing the way we live our lives."

Her work has helped the state of Utah achieve its first decrease in suicides in years, reversing an alarming trend. Jim Shelton, Former Deputy Education Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, says her work has the potential to keep the 64 million children in our schools safe physically and mentally by helping prevent school violence.

She was commissioned by the FDA to develop a scientific approach that has now become the model for drug safety and is ubiquitous across the U.S. and the globe. A front page lead article of The New York Times called this work "one of the most profound changes of the past 16 years".

Her scholarly work was included in the most important research in the history of the study of suicide. Through her advocacy, she has changed local, national and international policy.

She was named one of New York Magazine's "Most Influential" people and was recognized as the most Distinguished Alumna of her graduate school at Yeshiva University in the past 50 years.

Posner has also been a long-standing advocate of education reform. She is the Founding Chairman of the Board of Turnaround for Children, a groundbreaking model that is the first to fix failing schools in high-poverty communities, often referred to as "a missing link" of the education reform challenge. She is also co-founder of The Speyer Legacy School, the first independent school for advanced learners with a particular commitment to low-income high-achieving children.

Kim Ruocco, MSW:

Kim Ruocco is presently the Chief External Relations Officer for Suicide prevention and Postvention for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). Ms. Ruocco is an international public speaker who has a unique combination of personal and professional experience, education and training that provides a comprehensive understanding of suicide prevention and postvention.

Ruocco has been the Key note speaker at many national events, most notably the DOD/VA Suicide Prevention Conference, VA Suicide Prevention Month, The LOSS team conference, AAS/AFSP Healing Conference, IAVA Clay Hunt announcement and multiple USMC, Army, ANG and Navy safety stand downs.

Ruocco has been instrumental in raising awareness using the voices of military suicide survivors. She developed suicide survivor panels that testified in multiple venues including the DOD/VA suicide prevention task force, National Action Alliance and DOD/VA conferences. She assisted in the development of the Department of Defense Suicide prevention Office (DSPO) Postvention Toolkit, and was a reviewer for the current national strategy for postvention. Ms. Ruocco assisted in the development of the USMC's "Never Leave a Marine Behind" program and is a participant in the training video. She was the Family Liaison Contact for the USMC/AAS psychological autopsy research project that provided key prevention information for the USMC.

She and her son's are also lead participants in the Sesame Street "When Families Grieve" video which is distributed internationally to families who have a recent death. Ms. Ruocco regularly briefs the DSPO and Navy on the family perspective of risk factors and gaps in service.

She created a team of peer-professionals who provide care and comfort to nearly 5000 survivors of military suicide. The most impactful of these services is the TAPS Annual Survivors of Suicide Loss Conference, which offers hope and healing to 1000's of survivors, and provides a camp and military mentoring for the children of the fallen. Her programming has been ground breaking in the field of postvention and has been incorporated into many civilian postvention programs.

Ruocco is currently the co-lead on the National Action Alliance Military and Family Task force and a member of the National Expert Advisory Panel for Research. Ruocco is a member of the Steering committee for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC).

Ruocco holds a BA in Human Services and Psychology from the University of Massachusetts and a Masters degree in Clinical Social Work from Boston University.