indicate that American war veterans are far more likely to commit suicide than
non-veterans. Until recently, getting
emergency help and counseling services has been difficult or impossible for
many vets. But the situation may be improving, thanks to a national suicide
prevention hotline put in place last year by the
estimates that about 20 percent of American soldiers returning from duty in
Iraq and Afghanistan show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, placing
them at higher risk for suicide.
someone calls and they are in extreme distress or have immediate plans to hurt
themselves, we… keep them on the phone, and try to keep them talking to us and
safe until we can get them immediate help," says Kemp. The hotline
director estimates that, so far, the service has sent about 4600 calls out to
local suicide prevention coordinators, resulting in the actual prevention of at
least 720 imminent suicides.
non-governmental veterans groups, such as Iraq-Afghanistan
Veterans of America (IAVA), applaud the hotline; they say returning
veterans have needed an efficient round-the-clock resource like this for a long
the hotline, most veterans were asked to call a referral service called the
Army One Source. "I had a friend
of mine call [Army One Source] (to) say he was having suicidal thoughts,"
says Patrick Campbell, IAVA's legislative director. "They told him to go
online and take a personality test, and call back with the results of that
personality test! That's unacceptable."
the VA's national suicide hotline can only help those who do know about it.
That's why veterans groups also support a related V.A. program dedicated to
contacting every one of the nation's estimated half million-plus veterans to
tell them about the hotline.
all the help provided by the hotline comes over the telephone. Local suicide
prevention coordinators often meet people at the door of their facility and
actually walk them to the people who can help them enroll and stay there while
they complete the paperwork. "This is a compassionate answer to
bureaucratic problems," says hotline coordinator Janet Kemp.
are sometimes embarrassed to seek mental health counseling upon returning home,
seeing it as a sign of weakness to reach out. In recognition of this fact,
several veterans groups have called for mandatory mental health screening upon
discharge. Until such a program is in place, the hotline must rely mostly on
word of mouth and advertising.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline has launched a national campaign to convey
the idea that calling the hotline is a sign of strength.
are really approaching it from the perspective of 'it takes a lot of courage to
do this," says Kemp. "'You've
shown us you've got courage by your participation in the military. You need to
take that a step further now and get the help you need and you deserve.'"
with the hotline, there is plenty of work to be done to make sure that the
psychological wounds of war are addressed when veterans come home. According to
a recent class-action lawsuit brought by Veterans For Common Sense
and other activist groups, 18 U.S. veterans commit suicide on an average day – more
than typically die on the battlefield during a 24-hour period. Still, most
experts agree the hotline is a good start.