I think we can agree that the VA Crisis Line story – crisis calls going to voicemail – bothers each of us. What we might not agree on are the reasons why this story is so disturbing.
Sure, I want what I think we all want. When a Veteran calls the crisis line, someone is there to connect with them so – if nothing else – they don’t feel so alone. Here is what bothers me about this story:
First, the actual number of Veterans in Crisis exceeded the anticipated demand. You could make an argument that this is a good thing because it indicates that more Veterans are taking advantage of this service; however, to exceed the capacity suggests that we have miscalculated the number of struggling Veterans that exist. It suggests that we simply don’t know how bad it is for our Veterans out there. If we don’t identify the scope of the problem, how can we identify and apply resources to solve the problem?
Second, with the expansion of mental and behavioral health services across the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs, shouldn’t the number of Veterans in Crisis be going down instead of up? The Crisis Line does not operate in isolation. Concurrent with this suicide prevention measure are a number of legislative initiatives designed to improve both access, capacity, and quality of care – particularly when it comes to mental health. Perhaps the issues of PTS, TBI, anxiety, depression, and other mental or emotional challenges facing our Veterans are more than just issues of the mind. Perhaps we need to look at comprehensive programs of recovery that incorporate not only the mind, but also the body and spirit.
At Stop Soldier Suicide, we don’t try to replicate the Crisis Line at the Department of Veteran Affairs. In fact, we refer clients to that resource in the more desperate, urgent cases. However, we do attempt to address these two concerns. Because we connect with Veterans over a period of two years, we are learning which support interventions are the most effective. We are also identifying those follow-on resources to keep Veterans from regressing back into despair. With professional life and transition coaching, we are improving the quality of service from our case workers to help Veterans discover the level of empowerment they deserve for themselves and their families. By helping to build a community focused on the positive and potential, maybe we can discover the day where we don’t need to expand the staff to support Veterans in Crisis. Together, we will have discovered those programs to enable a healthy transition to the life our Veterans deserve.
What can you do? Well first, for Veterans and family members, connect with us.
Second, we would love to expand our services beyond our current hours of operation. Our hours of operation reflect the limitation in our financial resources. Only through your generosity, will we have the money and resources necessary to expand our hours of operation and enhance the access to and quality of our case management services. Please donate. Start a campaign. Contact us to let us know that you are able to volunteer. Discover those resources in your area that are working for our Veterans and connect us with them.
Yes, the VA Crisis Line story is disturbing. We all want Veterans who mobilize the courage to reach out for help to know that they are not alone. In the short term, we need to ensure that these Crisis Centers have those resources they need. But in the long term, we need solutions that enable Veterans to achieve their potential and discover empowerment, fulfillment, and happiness. In the long term, we should strive for the day when the crisis line is no longer needed.