Lessons Learned from Charlotte’s first Sociocultural Death Investigation Interview 

America's Warrior Partnership

Operation Deep Dive reached a significant milestone in July! We conducted our first Sociocultural Death Investigation (SDI) interview in the community of Charlotte, North Carolina. Sociocultural Death Investigations consist of two to four interviews with loved ones of a veteran who has died from suicide or self-injury. The SDI focuses on understanding how community context and engagement affect likelihood of suicide by veteran. 

Our first interview was conducted by our awesome local Research Assistant (RA), Tabatha Maddox, MSW. The following is her account of preparing for and conducting the interview: 

 Receiving the first call from a potential interviewee made me pretty nervous but mostly excited (well, as excited as you can be to talk about someone’s deceased family member or friend). We, as RA’s, had just barely completed training and as I was talking with this potential candidate my heart was racing with being ‘the first’. I felt confident that the training from America’s Warrior Partnership and the University of Alabama had adequately prepared me, but as a social worker by trade (and a veteran myself) I know that even the best-laid plans can go awry.  

I intentionally pushed for an interview date three weeks away from the day she called me so that I would have the time to be extra prepared, and my management team could better support me in implementing our plan for the interview process for the very first time.  

A flurry of other calls ensued and by the end of the day we all had a better idea of our immediate next steps. I was able to call the participant back to gather some information I missed during our first call and to send her the confidentiality agreement and consent form for her review. I explained the interview process to her and explained that if she knew of others who knew the veteran then she could share about this opportunity with them if she felt comfortable to do so.  

On the day of the interview I truly tried to be as prepared as possible. I left the house early, but since I confidently knew the route to the interview location I didn’t check the GPS information. Two new construction zones and one traffic accident blocking all lanes later, I arrived at the site with just five minutes to spare. The interviewee had arrived just a minute before me, which was not ideal as I had planned to be much earlier and welcome her directly. Instead she was greeted by front office staff, which was disorienting for her in an already stressful situation. As a result of this experience, the management team put into place a policy and procedure for interview locations about how to greet an interview participant that ensure they feel comfortable and confident that their confidentiality is being upheld.  

Thankfully we were able to conduct a great interview. While she was able to provide some details about the veteran’s life, in other areas she didn’t have as much information. However, she has connections to other family members of this veteran and that is just as valuable as they can help us have a fuller understanding of this person’s life. My interview with her demonstrated why we try to have two to four interviews per veteran case to get as complete a story as possible.  

Currently, we are waiting for more contacts of this veteran to come forward to be interviewed – and this RA is thankful for the challenges that happened so that future interviews can go more smoothly.