Last week I wrote about the difference the Veterans Administration's Crisis Line has made for veterans vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. According to VA, as of July 31, 2011, the VA's Crisis Line received 462,854 calls. Of those calls, 259,891 were from veterans and 6,030 were from active duty service members. The VA rescued 16,855 veterans and service members.
While I included the number for the hotline, I failed to include a critical piece of information. The phone number for the Veterans Crisis Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is the same: 800-273-8255. The VA would like to emphasize to veterans that they need to press 1 which will directly transfer them to Department of Veterans Affairs responders rather than to the general help of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
I'd like to take this opportunity to praise the work of countless individuals at the local VAs across the country. In this blog, I have criticized policies of the VA that have hindered accessibility for mental health care for many veterans. I've observed anger in some responses to those posts that seem to result from perceptions that I was maligning VA employees.
While institutions and bureaucracies are created by and composed of individuals, it is impossible to make a statement that would be true of all individuals within a bureaucracy. What I can speak to are the people I have met and worked with at the VA here in Austin and other locations. They are dedicated to their veterans. They put in countless overtime, taking hours away from their own private lives to do all they can to help their clients. I have observed complete commitment, deep anguish and great joy in the face of their veterans' needs, challenges and successes.
In this polarized culture, it is critical that we always remember to see one another as individuals with unique stories and qualities. We need to be present so we can hear one another's stories.