New 988 suicide prevention hotline gives vets and troops an easier option for emergency care

The new 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which launched over the weekend, isn’t specifically aimed at veterans, but advocates hope the resource will provide an easier place for veterans and service members dealing with emergencies. Mental Health.

“The new, shorter issue directly addresses the need for ease of access and clarity in times of crisis for both veterans and non-veterans,” said Dr. Tamara Campbell, Acting Executive Director of the Office. of Mental Health and Suicide from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prevention, said at a press conference Friday.

“[VA officials] are working to update materials and communications with the new issue to spread the word to veterans, their supporters and our community partners.

The new three-digit dialing code, mandated by Congress two years ago, is designed to provide an alternative to the 911 emergency call line for people with suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues. .

The hotline went live nationwide on Saturday, though officials noted that some states may still need a few more weeks and months to align their systems with the new service.

For Veterans Affairs officials, who have prioritized suicide prevention as a key health care goal in recent years, the new number does not replace any staffing or procedures related to their crisis line for long-established veterans.

This service, in operation for 15 years, receives around 2,000 calls per day on average, as well as nearly 400 SMS and chat exchanges.

And while the Veterans Crisis Line number – 1-800-273-8255 – still works, officials predict the new 988 hotline will be easier to remember, allowing more people to ask for help. help when they need it.

As a result, Veterans Affairs officials expect call volume to increase over the next year to 1.7 million, nearly 2.5 times more than last year’s total.

Dr. Matthew Miller, executive director of VA Suicide Prevention, said officials had been preparing for the change for a few years and had hired more than 460 new staff to handle an increased volume of calls.

“We are building our capabilities as quickly as possible, but also as validly and thoroughly as possible,” he said. “It’s one thing to answer the call quickly. But what happens after the call matters too.

Miller said officials are preparing for a 60% increase in requests for consultations with veteran suicide prevention coordinators over the next two years and up to a 150% increase from current levels by the third. year of 988 operations.

“We have analyzed projected demand and supply across the country with suicide prevention coordinators and dedicated resources to ensure local facilities are supported in this area,” he said. “We are also addressing outpatient mental health staffing by building and increasing resources and support to local facilities.”

VA officials emphasize that despite everyone coming in, the core services and response behind their Veterans Crisis Line operations will not be changed.

“It’s the same VCL that veterans trust, and from which veterans and the American public expect the highest standards,” he said. “This is a new option to access the same services.”

Veteran suicide fell to a 12-year low in 2019, down more than one death a day from levels a year earlier, according to data released by VA officials in the fall. last. This translated to approximately 17 veterans a day dying from suicide. When active duty military, reservists and other associated groups are taken into account, the total is closer to 20 per day.

But even with the decline, the suicide rate among veterans remains nearly double that of the rest of the US population, accounting for more than 32,000 deaths from 2015 to 2019.

Veterans who call the new 988 hotline or the old 1-800-273-8255 number can select option 1 after logging in to reach a VA staff member. Additionally, veterans, troops, or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.