“It’s your call,” the VA posters and promotional materials proclaim. The Veterans Crisis Line number is 1-800-273-8255, press 1. Chats are also available online at VeteransCrisisLine.net, or by texting 838255.
“The professionals on the crisis line are specially trained to help veterans of all ages and circumstances,” said Tousha West, VA suicide prevention coordinator, who spoke Monday night in Carrollton. “The caller may want to know how to get VA services or he may be calling, saying he has a gun in his hand. We have resource information and are able to respond immediately to a crisis.”
West said that returning veterans may be struggling with a number of issues, including transition back to civilian life, chronic pain, depression, sleeplessness and anger, and they may reach a crisis point. She said the people who answer the calls are there to listen and help the caller get through the crisis.
For people who may know veterans who are struggling with problems, West offered these suggestions:
• Know the signs of suicide. The person may be giving his/her possessions away, may express guilt about others’ deaths or be asking questions or talking about suicide.
Some signs of suicide require immediate attention: thinking about hurting or killing themselves, looking for ways to kill themselves, talking about death, dying or suicide and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse and weapons.
“Anyone who brings up the issue of suicide, take them seriously,” she said. “They want to talk.”
• It’s O.K. to ask questions, but don’t make any promises you can’t keep.
“Identify specific things they can do to get to the next level of care or get to a professional.”
• Validify the person’s experience. “Everybody needs somebody to lean on.”
• Be willing to expedite them to help.
The VA launched the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline in 2007. It was renamed the Veterans Crisis Line in 2011 to encourage veterans and their families and friends, who may be the first to realize a veteran is in emotional distress, to reach out for support when issues reach a crisis point, even if it’s not a suicide crisis.
Since the line opened in 2007, its professionals have answered more than 650,000 calls and made more than 23,000 life saving rescues.
In 2009, an anonymous chat line was added, which has helped more than 65,000 people. A text messaging service was introduced in 2011 to provide another way for veterans to reach out for help.
The VA study in February covered suicides from 1999 to 2010. A previous, less precise VA estimate had said there were 18 veteran suicides per day.
While much attention has focused on suicides by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the report indicated that the problem is worse among older veterans. According to the report, more than 69 percent of the veteran suicides were among individuals ages 50 and older.
The VA report came two weeks after the U.S. military acknowledged that suicides hit a record in 2012, outpacing combat deaths, with 349 active duty suicides, almost one per day.
However, the VA has noted that the number of suicides among all people rose 11 percent from 2007 to 2010.