Federal Diary: Head of Suicide Prevention Program Gets Top Honor Among Those Recognized for Service

JANET KEMP, national director of the suicide prevention program for the Veterans Health Administration, was named Federal Employee of the Year.
JANET KEMP, national director of the suicide prevention program for the Veterans Health Administration, was named Federal Employee of the Year. (By Sam Kittner)
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By Steve Vogel
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Faced with alarming numbers of suicides by veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs turned several years ago to Janet Kemp, an experienced hand who had started her career as a VA nurse over two decades ago, earned a doctorate and became an expert on the subject of suicide prevention.

The result was the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline -- 800-273-TALK -- which began taking calls in July 2007. More than 160,000 calls have been logged since then, and VA credits the service with helping to resolve more than 5,000 incidents involving callers who were removed from a suicidal situation.

On Wednesday, Kemp, national director of the suicide prevention program for VA's Veterans Health Administration, was recognized as Federal Employee of the Year by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which sponsors the annual Service to America medals for outstanding public servants.

"Everyone in their career wants an opportunity to make a difference, and this is an incredible experience for me," Kemp said Wednesday.

Eight more federal employees were awarded Service to America medals for their work on a variety of problems, including the mortgage crisis, climate change, homelessness and disease.

"You see a myriad of ways our government is tackling our most pressing challenges," said Max Stier, president of the partnership, which bills the awards as the "Oscars" of government service and uses them to put the spotlight on good work within the federal sector.

"By and large, the American public doesn't have a good sense of what government is doing for them, and the best way to change that is to introduce them to individual stories," Stier said before an award ceremony Wednesday evening in Washington. "The federal workforce does not get the kind of recognition it deserves, to the detriment of our country."

Thomas A. Waldmann, chief of the Metabolism Branch at the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute, received the Career Achievement Medal for his remarkable work over five decades, including groundbreaking advances that have led to effective treatments for previously fatal forms of T-cell leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple sclerosis.

The Citizen Services Medal was awarded to Michael German, national team leader at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who created state and local agency partnerships that are credited with contributing to a 30 percent reduction in long-term homelessness.

Don Burke and Sean P. Dennehy of the Central Intelligence Agency together were awarded the Homeland Security Medal for their work promoting "Intellipedia," a Wikipedia-like repository of intelligence meant to improve information sharing across the intelligence community.

The Environment Medal went to Allan Comp, a program analyst in the Office of Surface Mining at the Department of Interior, for building a network of volunteers to assist Appalachian coal country communities and to address environmental problems in the West's hard-rock mining region.

Patricia Guerry, chief of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Branch at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center, received the Science and Technology Medal for her work in creating the campylobacter vaccine to prevent the world's top cause of food-borne intestinal illness.

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