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Onward Ops, Military Transition Support Program

During Suicide Prevention Month, Onward Ops Military Transition Support Program Highlights Its Focus on the ‘Deadly Gap’

You Are Not Alone: Call the National Suicide Hotline’s Veterans Crisis Line at 988 (Press 1), Chat Live or Text 838255 for 24/7 Confidential Crisis Support for Veterans and Their Loved Ones


The first year out of the service – a period known as the “deadly gap” – is a particularly vulnerable time as new veterans navigate location, employment and identity changes. In this “deadly gap,” the risk of suicide increases. During September’s Suicide Prevention Month, when mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness, Onward Ops is highlighting its mission of providing timely support, meaningful connections and valuable tools so all transitioning service members and new veterans can experience a successful transition into civilian life.

“While there is no shortage of resources available to assist veterans, transitioning service members and new veterans are often left to navigate access on their own. The process is unwieldy and overly bureaucratic. No one’s coming to them and saying, ‘Just check this block and we’ll get you enrolled in the VA’ or ‘Sign here and we’ll process your disability,’” said retired Army Brigadier General Michael Eastman, executive director of the Expiration Term of Service Sponsorship Program (ETS-SP), a national non-profit organization bridging the gap between military and civilian life, and its Onward Ops (OnwardOps) military transition support program. “Compounded by limited support and the lack of clear pathways to accessing resources, ‘deadly gap’ stressors contribute to a less-than-ideal adjustment out of the military. Early on, we dug into transition challenges new veterans face and found one outcome of poor transition preparation was suicide.”

In the “deadly gap,” veterans no longer have access to Defense Department resources and may not yet have access to Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) resources, leaving them with limited mental health support. VA research shows the suicide rate among new veterans during the “deadly gap” is more than double that of their civilian peers and almost twice as high as the general veteran population. The VA also found that many “deadly gap” difficulties can be eased by community interventions that promote connectedness and strengthened with the help of sponsors.

Through its certified sponsors, community integrators and partnerships nationwide, Onward Ops – available at no cost to all transitioning service members – assists with employment, benefits, care, housing, and more, to assist in a successful move into civilian life. When service members enroll, they connect with a sponsor and community integration coordinator in their destination communities or guide themselves through the process with the help of the organization’s tools.

“If each of the military branches encouraged its people to enroll with us a year before they completed their tour of duty, spending that time preparing for transition and working with a sponsor if they wanted one, and then attending their mandatory transition class, we would reverse many of the negative outcomes we see with the system as it exists today.”  

As a social welfare organization, Onward Ops also provides access to organizations and charities that address critical needs like housing and food insecurity, and conducts a risk assessment, created in partnership with Harvard Medical School, with all enrollees. “If someone scores high enough that the algorithm indicates they are at risk for suicide, we have the ability to connect them within 24 hours to a VA person, then a behavioral health provider.” 

Through major partnerships including Google and USAA’s Face the Fight Foundation, Onward Ops has expanded its presence to all 50 states in two years, and its transitioning service members and new veteran enrollments have increased from 20-30 a month to 800-1,000 a month. 

“In this month dedicated to suicide prevention,” Eastman said, “we wanted to reinforce that with positive community engagement and the efforts of volunteer sponsors, it is possible to reduce the unacceptable loss of our country’s newest veterans.”

People can give back to transitioning service members and military spouses by volunteering as an Onward Ops sponsor at Communities interested in joining our network can connect via [email protected]. For news and updates, follow on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn