In 2014, 68% of male veterans and 41% of female veterans who committed suicide used a firearm. Research suggests that most suicidal crises pass within minutes to hours: Building in time and space between a suicidal impulse and access to a gun can be a safety valve.
The VA Challenge Team launched an innovation contest for novel and effective approaches using gun-safety mechanisms to prevent suicide, injury, and accidents. One main criterion: the device or system must allow for 100% voluntary control (implementation, suspension, decommissioning) by the veteran.
The Challenge team was looking for solutions that would be inexpensive, applicable for at-home use, not impede responsible access to the weapon, and provide education about gun safety. The winners were:
- First place—Barret Schlegelmilch, for the DuoBox, a mechanical device that provides inexpensive, secure and reliable weapon storage and encourages responsible weapon access with 2 people present.
- Second place—Timothy Oh, Christine Tate, and Jorel Lalicki, for their “open environment” biometric safe that includes fingerprint authentication and other features to enhance control of access.
- Third place—Kathleen Gilligan and Leslie Bodi, for the Sentinel, a mobile application that helps veterans connect with peers in an innovative “buddy system” so they know they are not alone in a crisis. The app also controls Bluetooth-enabled gun-lock boxes and has unique features such as a time-lock and automated emergency calling.
The winners received cash awards, as well as access to VA resources, such as subject matter experts, for any potential follow-on design and development.