The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has responded to pressure from veterans groups and advocates to update and improve the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL), which in the past has been difficult to navigate for those with a medical and/or mental health emergency.
On July 6, the Philadelphia VA Medical Center will launch a pilot program that streamlines the process and allows veterans to connect directly to the VCL for any required emergency services. The previous system, which greeted callers with an automated message, required them to hang up and dial 911 if they were experiencing a medical or mental health emergency. If the veteran was having thoughts of hurting himself or herself, they were directed to hang up and dial 1-800-273-8255 and press option "1" to talk to a mental health professional.
In a letter sent to VA Secretary Robert McDonald on February 2, 2015 by the entire New Jersey Congressional delegation, the problem was outlined and a request made to fix the problem and, by so doing, save veterans' lives.
Under the new system, a veteran calling will be told to "press 7" to be connected directly to the VCL if he or she is having thoughts of suicide or call 1-800-273-8255 and then press 1.
In a press release issued by U.S. Congressman Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, he applauded the VA for launching the pilot program that involves 10 VA centers nationwide, including Philadelphia, which encompasses his districts in Southern New Jersey.
LoBiondo said he became aware of the VA's antiquated suicide hotline through local veterans advocate Joe Griffies, a Vietnam veteran and co-host of the weekly radio program that deals with veterans' issues,"The Welcome Home Show," which airs on Saturdays on WIBG. The new Veterans Crisis Line pilot program is the direct result of long-time efforts by Griffies and others to make sure everything possible is done to aid veterans who are experiencing a crisis.
As Griffies said, "It's the least we could do for those who have sacrificed so much for our country."