Each year, millions of Americans struggle with mental illness. Veterans and their families are no different, which is why the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255) 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 illness. 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 national suicide prevention hotline, ensuring Veterans with 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 over 500 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 5.9 million calls and sent more than 220,000 rescues to assist callers with emergency services.
Evolving communication, support to help Veterans in need
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 to develop intimate, lasting connections with Veterans.
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 mentors 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 Advanced Analytics team continues work to locate signs of crisis before they escalate further. Leveraging a robust database of Veteran attitudes and experiences, VA can intervene more swiftly to Veterans conveying signs of crisis.
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. An artificial intelligence solution helps identify comments that convey signs of crisis (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 identify 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.
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