The Impact of Technology: Text Messaging to Prevent Suicide Among Young Veterans


 

 

 

Izzy Abbass, Commander of VFW Post 1, is a regular guest blogger for Warrior Gateway.

 

 

Unfortunately, we still lose over 18 Veterans a day to suicide across the US.  Some of these men and women are still wearing the uniform; others have been out for a short time or possibly many years.  However, one thing is common in all cases – easily accessible help may have led to a different outcome.

The Department of Veterans Affairs launched the Veterans Crisis Line four and a half years ago to help curb this epidemic.  The Crisis Line is a 1-800 number with trained counselors available 24 hours a day.  They are now up to over 1,000 calls per day and average 25 rescues a day – a rescue is when they dispatch 911 services to a veteran’s location to save a life.  This is a great service which is having significant impact within our veteran community.  But, how do we more effectively reach younger veterans?

In November, the VA took a bold step to do just that – reach younger veterans through the technology they use – mobile phones.  On November 3rd, a text help line went live connecting veterans to the same counselors via text messaging.   Knowing that the under 30 veteran did not grow up with 1-800 numbers and that they are far more likely to text than to place a phone call, this was seen as a natural next step.

By texting to 838255, veterans receive an automatic text letting them know they’ve connected to the Crisis Center and asking if they are in immediate danger.  At the same time, an alert is sent to the VA Crisis Center and an operator takes control of the discussion through a computer interface.  It is basically instant messaging via text.  This is all completely confidential and there is no cost for the text messages to or from the number which was built by CrossLink Media in San Antonio, Texas.

Since launch, the number of contacts through the text line has grown steadily with over 900 veterans reaching out via text since launch and more than 300 in February alone.  This represents over 30,000 text messages going back and forth.  One reason for its popularity is the confidential nature of texting.  Unlike a phone call which can be overheard, texting can be done with other people around and in fact a number of vets have remarked that they are using the service so they do not wake up their family members.

The goal of the counselors is to still get the veteran on the phone with a counselor and then get them into treatment.  However, since in some cases the veteran does not feel like talking or won’t because of those around them, the text help line serves as a much needed lifeline to these men and women.

While no one believes that this alone will end veteran suicides, it is one more tool that is making an impact.  If you find yourself feeling lost and with thoughts of taking drastic action, reach out to the dedicated men and women who want to help.  Text to 838255 – it can be a single word, a question or just the word help and someone who cares will be there anytime you need them.

 

Izzy Abbass

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/izzyabbass

 

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Sea of Goodwill Series: Navigating the Sea of Goodwill

This week’s guest blogger is Bill Salesky, a Senior Consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton and an enlisted member of the Air Force Reserve. In this blog, Bill shares his thoughts on the resources needed for the transition home.

Like many other Americans, I know those who have been deployed overseas – they are friends; they are classmates; they are colleagues.  One needs only turn on the television or read a newspaper to see the stories about service men and women on their second or third tour of duty.  Some are active duty, some are reservists like me, and some are National Guard.  What they all have in common is that they left their families and “normal lives” for months at a time to answer America’s call to duty.

Upon their return, veterans and their families have a variety of needs as they work to re-integrate into each local community.  The navigation of the 400,000 nationwide organizations supporting and providing resources to the veteran community is no simple task.  An example of how overwhelming it can be to find a specific resource across the extensive amount of resources can be illustrated through a veteran’s search of the phrase “post traumatic stress disorder.”  This disorder is one of the more common afflictions after military service abroad.  This key phrase yields over 5 million results and does not quickly get the veteran to the answers or resources he/she needs.

To better support our veterans and their families, it is imperative to have a platform dedicated to nothing more than navigating the vast array of resources and services available to their needs.  There needs to be one additional resource which is the connection and portal to link the other 400,000 resources while addressing the needs of the veteran community.

Bill Salesky

Sr. Airman, U.S. Air Force Reserve


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Veterans Program a Success with Colorado Springs Veterans

Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group’s Peer Navigator program is successfully helping veterans with making their way through the often confusing world of VA benefits and healthcare.   The group connects veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) experts in cutting through the red tape and getting the services these veterans need.  Kevin Porter, director of public affairs for the organization, says “A few hundred Colorado veterans have benefited from the program so far.”   The program provides a “friendly face” to guide former military personnel and their families through the transition back to the civilian world.

This program stands out from other programs because of its immediate response to the requests for help.  “Our peer navigator, if you’re at church if you’re at home or you’re at a bar, they’re dispatched to that location, just like an ambulance would be,” says Porter.  This program gives veterans hope for their futures as citizens in the country they defended.

For more on this recent success story view the full article.

Do you have experience with this or other VA programs for the Colorado Springs area?  Click here.

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May is Mental Health Month

May is National Mental Health Month. This is a month for us to reflect on the impact and prevalence of mental health issues. It’s a month to speak openly and freely about issues which are common, but commonly stigmatized.

Which is why this month the Warrior Gateway will be posting a series of resources, stories, and other information related to mental health and the military community. Stay posted for more!

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Helping service members with the emotional cost of war

M. David Rudd (dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science and scientific director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah) has a good opinion piece in USA Today that discusses the tension between the ‘warrior identity’ built into our men and women in combat and the inevitable emotional baggage that comes along with killing and living in an atmosphere of frequent danger. As Rudd notes, there is a major perceived distinction between physical and mental injuries–while physical injuries are obvious and there is little stigma surrounding them, admitting to ‘mental wounds’ is often thought of as a sign of weakness–a weakness which conflicts with the ‘warrior identity.’

Rudd discusses the effect the stigma surrounding mental wounds on the recent increase in suicides among the military community, noting that the people often most in need are also those most reluctant to seek out help. Russ also suggests a number of possible solutions to the problem surrounding admitting and seeking help for their emotional baggage:

• Talk more frequently beforehand about optimal performance and resilience in combat, rather than post-trauma symptoms and mental illness afterward.

• Help soldiers construct a warrior identity that more clearly integrates the emotional consequences of killing.

• Encourage military leaders at the highest levels to talk openly about their own difficulty after combat experience, something that is already happening and is very effective at combating stigma.

Click here to read the full article.