By Paul Sullivan
In 2011, a mother in distress phoned me about her son who had just returned from the war in Iraq. He was absent without leave from the Army and in emotional crisis.
Fortunately, immediate assistance was available because, four years earlier, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) set up a suicide prevention hotline, now called the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL).
As a veteran and advocate for fellow veterans, I referred the soldier to VA’s VCL and to legal advocacy. The situation turned out well, resulting in an honorable discharge for the young man as well as lifetime access to quality VA mental healthcare.
Thankfully, a dozen years later, he’s fine, even with his posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the war. Yes, our VA safety net worked. There is no “private sector” equivalent of VA’s VCL, because only VA has the proven expertise, intent, and ability to perform this sacred mission of caring for our veterans.
Veteran PTSD and suicide continues to be a serious issue. According to reliable data from VA released in 2022: “In 2020, adjusting for population age and sex differences, the suicide rate for veterans was 57.3% greater than for non-veteran U.S. adults.”
Now, 16 years since VA opened the VCL, here is what Americans should know about the excellent work of VA’s dedicated mental health professionals.
Veterans are contacting VA’s VCL:
o 8.4 million veteran contacts
o 7,200,000 calls to 988, then press 1.
o 885,000 chats at VeteransCrisisLine.net
o 342,000 texts to 838255.
VA’s commendable results:
· VCL referred 1,400,000 veterans to VA suicide prevention coordinators, usually for an expedited mental health appointment at a nearby VA hospital or clinic.
· VCL made 298,000 dispatches of emergency services, usually to bring the veteran to a hospital for evaluation and care.
· VCL answered calls to 988, on average, in less than ten seconds, demonstrating fast access to trained and experienced mental health support.
· VCL received more than one million calls, texts, and chats during Fiscal Year 2023 – an all-time record and increase of 15.1 percent compared to previous years.
Our nation remains at war after more than 33 years in dozens of locations, placing an enormous strain on our military, veterans, families, and the nation. Yes, the VCL works. Please add 988 to your phone today, and encourage veterans to use VA.
Through these conflicts, VA’s staff have constantly delivered help, answering the phones, chats, and texts 24/7 to help a family member, friend, neighbor, battle buddy, or co-worker who was drafted or volunteered to stand between a bullet and our Constitution.
One important new development showing VA cares became effective in January 2023. According to VA, “veterans in acute suicidal crisis will be able to go to any VA or non-VA health care facility for emergency health care at no cost – including inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days. Veterans do not need to be enrolled in the VA system to use this benefit.”
Thank you, VA, for evolving, improving, and saving nearly 300,000 Veteran lives ~ about 45 every day ~ as VA truly welcomes our Veterans home and honors their service.
The author is a a Gulf War veteran and former deputy secretary for the California Department of Veterans Affairs who currently serves as the director of veterans outreach at Bergmann & Moore, one of the largest VA-accredited law firms in the country that handles VA disability appeals in federal court. He is also a member of VHPI's Steering Committee.