United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Veterans Can Chat Online with Suicide Prevention Staff
An online chat with a qualified VA counselor is one of many tools used by mental health professionals.
An online chat with a qualified VA counselor is one of many tools used by mental health professionals.

"Jamie," a Veteran, needed desperate help from the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline. He could have picked up the phone to talk to a trained counselor. Instead, he went online.

The way Dr. Jan Kemp tells it, families of computer-savvy Veterans told her that their sons and daughters would never pick up a phone to call the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline. Kemp, the VA's national suicide prevention coordinator, said families and Veterans alike were looking for an alternative to the phone when seeking help.

Enter a new Hotline feature: Veterans Chat. Veterans and their families can enter a chat room on the Hotline Web site, www.suicidepreventionHotline.org/Veterans/. The Veteran can choose to remain anonymous by picking a username to enter the chat. A trained counselor will join the chat, providing information and responding to the Veteran's requests and concerns.

"We are just beginning to pilot Veterans Chat," said Kemp. "It provides an alternative to Veterans who are more comfortable communicating with us over the Internet."

Veterans Chat, which began in July of 2009, is benefitting Veterans. When Jamie logged on and chatted with a counselor, the counselor sensed Jamie's situation was serious. Jamie, in danger, needed immediate assistance. He voluntarily gave his home phone number to the counselor, and with this key bit of information, the Hotline team swiftly acted. Other counselors called the number while the original counselor stayed online with Jamie. Jamie's mother answered the phone.

With everyone working at an urgent pace, a plan fell into place. Jamie's mother and the Hotline staff intervened, convincing the young Veteran that there were other alternatives to suicide and to seek medical treatment. Jamie, accompanied by his mother, drove to the nearest VA medical facility where he received immediate care. With VA's mental health resources, Jamie continues his recovery today.

Chat responders are trained in an intervention method to assist people with emotional distress and concerns. If the caller is in immediate danger, as Jamie was, counselors will follow procedures to ensure the caller receive emergency care as quickly as possible.

Veterans Chat is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Veterans can also call the toll-free hotline, 1-800-273-TALK, which is also available 24 hours a day. The Hotline has received more than 150,000 calls and performed 4,000 rescues since its inception in July 2007.

"It is extremely important for Veterans to know that we are available for them and that we will make every effort to provide them with the support they need to handle emotional crisis or situations that are difficult for them," said Kemp. "Hope and help and access to these services is available and immediate."

Editor's Note: Dr. Jan Kemp's service to Veterans has been recognized with a 2009 Service to America award.
See http://servicetoamericamedals.org/SAM/finalists09/csm/kemp.shtml for details.

By Stephanie Strauss, VA Staff Writer