A New HBO Documentary – Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1

vet crisis lineEvery day, 22 veterans take their own lives.  That’s according to a report released earlier this year by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  And that number could actually be higher.

The rate of veteran-suicide is much higher than for the general population.

The Veterans Crisis Line was established six years ago to try and slow the flood of veteran suicides.

A new HBO documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, takes us past the cubicles and down the hallways at the Veterans Crisis Line Center based in Canandaigua, N.Y.

There, you hear the piercing ring of telephone and catch snippets of conversations with the first responders trying to nudge that suicide rate down:

“Thank you for calling the Veterans Crisis Line, my name is Lewis. How can I help you?”

“… I know you said you have a knife nearby you. Do you agree to not use that knife while I put you on hold?”

“… What you’re telling me is that people have to do something drastic before they get help.”

Responders answer calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The hotline is not just for veterans considering suicide. Any veteran experiencing any kind of distress can call at any time.

“Whether they’re dealing with relationship issues, problems finding work, problems just adjusting back into civilian life, there’s a ton of things they could run into and they need to understand they’re not alone and these things can be worked out,” said Jason Edlin, an Army veteran who has worked as a Veterans Crisis Line responder for almost five years.

Edlin was there when HBO filmed the documentary. He isn’t in the movie but says it delivers a message the public needs to hear.

A display table featuring key chains and kitchen magnets with the Veterans Crisis Line was set up this week for student veterans at the University of South Florida by staff at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

A display table featuring key chains and kitchen magnets with the Veterans Crisis Line was set up this week for student veterans at the University of South Florida by staff at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

I hope that people can better understand what veterans go through,” Edlin said.

The Veterans Crisis Line fields more than 22,000 calls a month.

Since 2001, more veterans have died by their own hand than in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while suicide has been increasing, the deputy director of suicide prevent at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Caitlin Thompson, likes to point out some distinctions.

“We’re finding that of those veterans and service members who die by suicide less than half of them have actually have been deployed,” Thompson said. “So, we can’t just put it on ‘well they were deployed and they all saw combat and that’s why they’re dying’ because that’s actually been shown to not be the case.”

Thompson said suicide is complex. Many veterans and service members have the same reasons as the general population for killing themselves such as financial and relationship problems. But military service can compound those issues.

“We’re working so hard at the VA and at the DoD (Department of Defense) as well in our suicide prevention effort,” Thompson said. “Another thing I want to bring up is the culture of using firearms in a veteran population. And it’s been shown that veterans die by suicide by firearms far more than the general population. Veterans and service members are very comfortable with firearms and so gun safety is also a very important consideration as we continue to look ahead.”

Thompson helped the Department of Defense set up their Suicide Prevention Office and she spent four years as one of the psychologists overseeing the responders, the people who answer the Veterans Crisis Line.

Some of the free paraphernalia used to promote the Veterans Crisis Line.

Some of the free paraphernalia used to promote the Veterans Crisis Line.

“It’s such a unique environment in that way. It’s a very emotional environment to work in. it’s very high stress,” Thompson said.

The HBO documentary shows  supervisors comforting  responders after some of the more difficult calls.

Thompson said that’s the value of the documentary. It shows veterans the compassion of the responders on the other end of the phone.

We want veterans and service members to pick up the phone and call and at times it may be very, very hard for people to do that,” Thompson said.”But I’m hoping that after seeing some of the faces on the other end of the phone and hearing some of the stories that that will help promote the crisis line as an option.”

That option also extends to family members and friends of veterans and to service members. The Crisis Line is open to them. And there is also live online chats and texting.

You can listen to the radio version of this story on WUSF 89.7 News.

The HBO documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, airs again Sunday at 6:00 a.m., 3:15 p.m.; Nov. 19 at 10:45 a.m. and Nov. 23 at 12:15 p.m. HBO2 playdates: Nov. 18 at 9:30 a.m. and Nov. 26 2:10 p.m.


Remembering Veterans Who Lost the Battle to Suicide

Courtesy of the Defense Centers of Excellence

Courtesy of the Defense Centers of Excellence

For many years there was no recognition, no ceremony to remember the veterans and active-duty military members who lost their battle to suicide.

No longer.

This week, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) is hosting a “Week of Remembrance.

It’s a chance for families and friends to remember their loved ones, service members and veterans who committed suicide, by posting a photo or a thought on Facebook.

“Week of Remembrance” coincides with Suicide Prevention Month, observed in September by the Defense Department and related organizations.

Along with the remembrance are resources to share with servicemembers and veterans who may be at risk of suicide or in need of mental health help:

Survivor assistance is available through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which  provides tragedy assistance to anyone who has suffered the loss of a military loved one, regardless of the relationship to the deceased or the circumstance of the death, and Sesame Street’s Military Families Near and Far, which offers resources to help talk to children about grief and loss.

Confidential support for military members is available 24/7 from the Military Crisis Line by phone 800-273-8255 (press 1), text 838255 or online chat


6 Suicide Trends That Trouble Army Officials

This photo is courtesy of the Graham family. Second Lt. Jeffrey Graham, left, and ROTC cadet Kevin Graham, right, were the sons of Maj. Gen. Mark Graham and his wife Carol. The brothers died within months of each other. Jeffrey fell in combat and Kevin took his own life. Their parents use this image when they speak publicly about suicide prevention. A link to the Graham family story is below.

The Army is on a service-wide standdown today to focus on suicide prevention.

“Suicide is the toughest enemy I have faced in my 37 years in the Army,” Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin III told the Army Times.

Six troubling trends

• More soldiers are dying by suicide than in combat.

• The service is on track to reach its highest suicide rate yet — 29 suicides per 100,000 soldiers per year, more than three times the rate in 2004 and a more than a 25 percent increase from last year.

• More noncommissioned officers and soldiers with multiple deployments are committing suicide.

• Some soldiers are falling through the cracks. A Defense Department study showed 45 percent of service members who died by suicide were seen by military health care professionals in the 30 days before their deaths.

• Despite efforts by the Army, soldiers still worry about the stigma attached to seeking help.

• 75 percent of those who attempted suicide were seen somewhere in the outpatient health care system within 30 days before their suicide attempt.

Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, the former G-3 for Forces Command and former commanding general of 4th Infantry Division, lost one son to an IED another to suicide. He speaks out about his loss.

You can read more on the Army Times Special Report: Losing the War on Suicide.

If you need help or know someone who is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Pentagon Reports Soldier Suicides Soar in July

More than once a day a soldier is suspected of killing himself according to the most recent data released by the Department of Defense. A total of 38 suicides are under investigation or confirmed in July.

Among active duty soldiers, there are 26 “potential” suicides, nine in the Army National Guard and three in the Army Reserve.

Time magazine reports that Army experts cannot account for the surge in suicides.

Retired Army colonel Elspeth Ritchie, once the service’s top psychiatrist and a key warrior fighting Army suicides, fears the toll won’t abate any time soon. “One of the risk factors for suicide is getting in trouble at work,” says Ritchie, now a Battleland contributor. “As the Army downsizes, the getting in trouble may translate into more soldiers facing discharge and possible unemployment,” she says. “Another risk factor is trouble with relationships. After a decade of war, going from having a spouse away most of the time — to being at home all the time — actually may make things worse. Especially if the spouse is underemployed.”

You can read more on the Time cover story- Grim Record: Soldier Suicides Research New High.
There is help for any family, veteran or active duty member:
  • Trained consultants are available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Or visit website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
  • Military One Source toll-free number 1-800-342-9647
  • Defense Center for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Outreach: 1-866-966-1020

If you need help or know someone who does – call one of the numbers above and talk.

Military Suicide: Study Offers Insight into Motivations

Photo courtesy of DCoE website.

Why does a member of the military attempt suicide? A new study of 72 active duty members who tried to kill themselves works to identify their motives.

Craig J. Bryan, a doctor of psychology, is associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah and delivered his findings at the annual Department of Defense and VA suicide prevention conference.

The research breaks down suicide motives into four categories:

  • Emotion relief, or the desire to stop bad feelings;
  • Feeling generation, or the desire to feel something even if it’s bad;
  • Avoidance and escape, or the desire to avoid punishment from others or avoid doing something undesirable;
  • Interpersonal influence, or the desire to get attention or “let others know how I feel.”

Learning the “why” of suicide is essential to reducing suicide attempt rates, Bryan said. The American Forces Press Service reports:

After patients confronted the reasons they had attempted or considered suicide, Bryan said, “it was like a light bulb went on.” While all of the participants originally said they attempted suicide because they wanted to die, 95 percent acknowledged after selecting factors they realized they had not wanted to die, but wanted to end emotional pain.

“What this means from a clinical standpoint is we have to start integrating these behavioral [and] functional understandings of suicide attempts into our treatment,” he said.

A Report on Suicide Rates among Military and Veterans

A Report on Suicide Rates among Military and Veterans

Reducing suicide rates among service members is a top priority for the Department of Defense. A Center for a New American Security report shows that from 2005 to 2010, service members took their own lives at a rate of about one every 36 hours. While the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 18 veterans die by suicide each day.

Veterans Share Personal Stories for Suicide Prevention

Photo courtesy of DCoE website.

Personal stories are an effective way to illustrate an issue. September is “Suicide Prevention Awareness Month” and the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs made a call for veterans to tell their stories.

From the Defense Centers of Excellence, the following story is shared by Army veteran Micheal K. Strong. In May, he participated in the 2011 Warrior Games on the U.S. Paralympic Team.

My name is Micheal K. Strong, and I survived.

I don’t ever remember wanting to hurt myself. Although, looking back on everything, it was kind of hard to ignore the warning signs. I was even trained as the company suicide prevention NCO. I was always the soldier that had the “Suck it up, and drive on” mentality. That doesn’t always work or fit everyone.

I was becoming more reclusive and withdrawn. I had sought help through the chaplain, and I was feeling better. I remember feeling hopeless and not seeing anything in my future. On July 15, 2009 I shot myself through the face. I don’t remember doing it, but I can remember every detail when I came to from being knocked out, until they put me to sleep in the Emergency Room.

Looking back on everything now, I would have to say the most important thing in my life is perception. Life brings all different types of up and downs, but it is how we perceive situations. No matter how bad or how grim something seems, there is always a small sliver of hope… it is how we perceive the situation that makes it all seem hopeless.

I was a helicopter mechanic, and it shouldn’t have happened to me. I should have been more willing to seek the help I needed, the same help I was afraid would ruin my career or “black-ball” me. I realize now, life has countless things to offer and experience.

I was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD and severe depression. During my recovery and transition to medical retirement I discovered that I had a unique perspective on this issue, and I have since devoted myself to helping others get help and trying to break down the overwhelming stigma surrounding mental health that prevents so many from seeking help. Military members are expected to shoulder many hard and difficult things, and many sometimes haven’t yet learned how to deal with some of those things… just knowing that it is acceptable to ask for help or to open up and talk about it is very important.

Not every story will be published, however the Defense Centers of Excellence is accepting submissions through the end of September.  Click here to submit your story.

Submissions should be:

  • Free of personal identifiable information (please do not include real names in the story)
  • Written in a clear, conversational tone
  • Between 300 and 700 words in length
  • Comply with the DCoE comment policy

If you or someone you know are currently having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK, military community option 1.

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