The data are further evidence that veterans are responding to the VA’s increasing use of technology, said Lisa Gerardot, the suicide prevention case manager at the uptown VA hospital in Augusta.
It’s especially critical that resources are accessible from different points because with younger veterans, “it’s a reflex for them to reach for an electronic device,” she said.
The online chat feature was introduced in 2009 when the Veterans Crisis Line was still called the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline. The name was changed last year to broaden the reasons veterans and their family members can call for help.
“A lot of times it’s just veterans overwhelmed by multiple issues,” Gerardot said. “It’s hard to figure out where to get the pieces back together.”
When someone from Augusta uses the service, whether online chat, text or call, the information is routed to a call center in New York, where the caller can voice concerns. Gerardot said the reasons vary, from making an appointment to having a fight with a spouse. If worries or nightmares are keeping a veteran awake at 2 a.m., “you can call the crisis line because someone is awake there,” Gerardot said.
After that call is placed, the call center will forward the information to the VA in Augusta for a follow-up phone call. Gerardot said veterans are aware that the follow-up is coming, but they’re still pleasantly surprised when someone on the local level reaches out to assist them.
Sometimes just a phone call is sufficient, but a follow-up could also involve placement into a homeless assistance program or a new mental evaluation.
“It’s a first and easy step to being able to link veterans to any number of treatments,” Gerardot said.
Though the phone, online chat and text messages are impersonal, Gerardot said the distance often makes it easier for a veteran to seek help.
There’s a myth that asking for help is a weakness, but “it’s actually the opposite.”
“We feel it’s a strength,” Gerardot said.