Each year, millions of Americans struggle with mental health issues. Veterans and their families are no different, which is why the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, Press 1) continues to expand and evolve to find the most effective ways to serve.
During Mental Health Awareness Month, VA joins the national movement to fight stigma, provide support and advocate for policies helping Veterans and their families with mental health issues. The VCL team is on the front lines, dedicated to forging lasting resource and support networks for Veterans in need.
People experience emotional and mental health crises in response to a range of situations, from relationship challenges to the uncertainties surrounding the loss of a job. Daily life is filled with disappointments, frustrations and the wear and tear of routine sources of stress. For Veterans, these struggles can manifest uniquely and may even be amplified because of their military service experiences.
Since 2007, VA has operated the Veterans Crisis Line, ensuring Veterans experiencing emotional crises have round-the-clock access to trained professionals. The initiative started small, with only 14 trained responders working out of a call center in Canandaigua, New York. The team, which has grown to more than 750 responders, aims to provide immediate crisis intervention and connect Veterans with local Suicide Prevention Coordinators (SPC).
Care is not confined to initial VCL contact. It continues long after the first conversation, as responders can refer Veterans to a local SPC, who can then connect them to appropriate counseling and support services. To date, the VCL has answered over 6.2 million calls and sent more than 233,000 dispatches of emergency services.
The VCL team continues to evolve, introducing new services, such as online chat and text (838255), and giving Veterans more avenues to communicate the way they feel most comfortable. Because many responders are Veterans themselves, they are familiar with Veteran challenges.
In the past few years, the VCL launched additional support initiatives beyond the call. VCL is also planning for the launch of 988, a new 3-digit-number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the VCL, which will be fully implemented by July 16, 2022.
- The Caring Letters program focuses on sending periodic messages with simple expressions of care and concern to Veterans during the year after their initial documented call to the VCL. This initiative, established in 2020, offers a unique opportunity to help save Veteran lives beyond the call, and statistics indicate the program has reduced the rate of suicide death, attempts and ideation.
- Opened in 2021, the Peer Support Outreach Call Center is staffed by trained Veterans who proactively reach out to VCL callers who may benefit from additional intervention. Studies show that Veterans who have peer support are more likely to keep their VA appointments, access additional treatment methods and meet other important health benchmarks. Peer specialists give Veterans a sense of empowerment, help reduce stigma and provide guidance on self-help and goal setting.
The VCL remains an essential component of VA’s overall effort to prevent suicide. While the VCL team works tirelessly to establish lasting Veteran support systems, the Veterans Experience Office’s (VEO) team continues work to locate signs of crisis before they escalate further, connecting them with intervention and support at times of need.
More rapidly identifying Veterans in crisis
Veterans Signals (VSignals), a Customer Experience (CX) solution, delivers survey and point-of-service Veteran feedback collection and analysis capabilities and helps inform opportunities in immediate- to short-term service recovery as well as long-term program and systems improvements.
The VSignals platform delivers actionable intelligence, detailing the various influences surrounding Veteran trust in VA. Underpinning the data is an ever-growing range of free text comments that capture daily interactions and long-term experiences Veterans have at clinics. VSignals helps identify comments that convey signs of crisis (alerts).
VSignals includes three types of crisis alerts: suicide, homelessness and sexual assault. Crisis alerts are triggered when certain keywords are detected in free text comments. For example, keywords for suicide alerts may include suicide and mental health.
While the VSignals platform gives these moments of crisis the attention they deserve, the VSignals team continues collaborating with the VCL and other VA partners to reach out to Veterans in crisis and, more importantly, explore ways to more effectively support these Veterans and their families.
If you are a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one, the VCL is here for you. Call 1-800-273-8255, then press 1; text to 838255; or chat online. Visit the VCL website to learn more about the hotline and how it works.