Monday, August 31, 2009

VA's Suicide Prevention Program Adds Chat Service

VA's Suicide Prevention Program Adds Chat Service

New Service Expands Online Access for Veterans

WASHINGTON (August 31, 2009) - The Suicide Prevention campaign of the
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expanding its outreach to all
Veterans by piloting an online, one-to-one "chat service" for Veterans
who prefer reaching out for assistance using the Internet.

Called "Veterans Chat," the new service enables Veterans, their families
and friends to go online where they can anonymously chat with a trained
VA counselor. If a "chatter" is determined to be in a crisis, the
counselor can take immediate steps to transfer the person to the VA
Suicide Prevention Hotline, where further counseling and referral
services are provided and crisis intervention steps can be taken.

"This online feature is intended to reach out to all Veterans who may or
may not be enrolled in the VA health care system and provide them with
online access to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline," said Dr. Gerald
Cross, VA's Acting Under Secretary for Health. "It is meant to provide
Veterans with an anonymous way to access VA's suicide prevention

Veterans, family members or friends can access Veterans Chat through the
suicide prevention Web site (
). There is a Veterans tab
on the left-hand side of the website that will take them directly to
Veteran resource information. On this page, they can see the Hotline
number (1-800-273-TALK), and click on the Veterans Chat tab on the right
side of the Web page to enter.

Veterans retain anonymity by entering whatever names they choose once
they enter the one-on-one chat. They are then joined by a counselor who
is trained to provide information and respond to the requests and
concerns of the caller.

If the counselor decides the caller is in a crisis, the counselor will
encourage the Veteran to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline, where a
trained suicide prevention counselor will determine whether crisis
intervention techniques are required.

The pilot program, which has been in operation since July 3, has already
had positive results. In one instance, the online counselor determined
that a Veteran in the chat required immediate assistance. The counselor
convinced the Veteran to provide the counselor with a home telephone
number and then remained in the chat room with the Veteran while the
hotline staff called the number and talked to the Veteran's mother. The
hotline counselor worked with the Veteran's mother to convince the
Veteran to be admitted to a medical facility for further treatment.

"The chat line is not intended to be a crisis response line," said Dr.
Janet Kemp, VA's National Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the VA
medical center in Canandaigua, N.Y., where VA's trained counselors staff
the chat line 24 hours a day, seven days a week. VA's suicide
prevention hotline is also staffed continuously.

"Chat responders are trained in an intervention method specifically
developed for the chat line to assist people with emotional distress and
concerns," Kemp said. "We have procedures they can use to transfer
chatters in crisis to the hotline for more immediate assistance."

Both Veterans Chat and the VA's Suicide Prevention Hotline have been
established under the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which was
established through collaboration between VA and the Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the Department of
Health and Human Services.

Since becoming operational in July 2007, VA's Suicide Prevention Hotline
has received more than 150,000 calls, resulting in 4,000 rescues.

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