United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
A Pathway for Suicide Prevention: The Phone Call is Just the Beginning
Woman sitting at her desk
Jan Kemp, National Director of the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK.

At the VA Suicide Prevention Lifeline, when the phone conversation ends, the care is only just beginning. With a motto of “care first, enrollment second” the Lifeline has created a continuum of care that starts with the initial call.

“When someone calls the Hotline here in Canandaigua it really means they have immediate access to VA care wherever they are,” said Jan Kemp, the VA National Mental Health Program Director for Suicide Prevention, who has spearheaded the creation and expansion of the VA Suicide Prevention Lifeline, often called the “Hotline.” While the Hotline is national, continuum of care is the process VA uses to connect veteran to assistance and medical care, usually at a local VA Medical Center. The process also emphasizes the efficient transfer of information from the nationally managed Hotline office to a local VA Medical Center.

Among the goals after a phone call to the Hotline: a referral, a rescue, or a resolution. In some cases, calling and speaking with a responder and having someone listen are enough to resolve the situation. If the Veteran is enrolled in VA health care, with his or her permission responders can access the medical records for background and status information. If this is first contact with VA health care, the responders will continue the call regardless; enrollment paperwork can catch up.

If there is imminent danger of suicide, Hotline responders and technicians will contact local emergency services immediately and initiate a rescue. Once the rescue is completed, a suicide prevention coordinator generates a referral to the local VA Medical Center (with the Veteran’s permission). Each VA medical center has a suicide prevention coordinator and in some larger regions, an entire team that will continue the care and follow-up with the veteran within 24 hours.

If you or a Veteran you know needs assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime, any day at
1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go online to VeteransChat.

Responders will also refer a caller when the danger is not imminent but there are still unmet needs. The Hotline has a three-pronged approach of e-mail, phone and reporting sent through a computer system specially created for the Hotline.

For Rob Tell, a suicide prevention coordinator at the Portland VA Medical Center, once he receives a referral from the Hotline, he begins what he sometimes calls “detective work” to find the Veteran when he only has a first name and their location. He can use the VA-wide computer system that allows him to access the responder’s notes from the call. He then has a clearer idea of what concrete actions he can provide to the Veteran.

Sometimes it’s “verbally holding [a] hand. Other times its much more concrete help we offer. There’s big range in what we can do.”

Whether a resolution, rescue, or referral, Hotline responders will also call back after two weeks, with the veterans’ permission. Called a ”compassionate call back,” said Jan Kemp, “It truly is just to let the veteran know that we’re still thinking about them and that we care and they can call the number back any time they want.”

For the Veteran, the program is designed so that, especially in a time of crisis, the path is a smooth process for meeting the Veterans’ needs both over the phone and through the local VA.

“The process was very well set up. It’s geared so that Veteran really gets the blanket coverage, a wraparound,” said David Stone, a Hotline responder and himself a Veteran.

By Hillary Green, VA Staff Writer

Related links:
  Suicide Prevention Hotline
  Department of Defense Mental Health

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