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

      Izzy Abbass, Commander of VFW Post 1, is a 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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Reducing Suicides: Over 900 #veterans have reached out via text since November: http://ow.ly/9CFph #techmonth  

 

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