Red Cross, Vets’ Crisis Line Work to Prevent Suicides

Help for Vets
Soldiers are taking their own lives at a rate faster than one per day this past July, according to the U.S. Army.

The number of veterans and active duty military personnel who committ suicide is growing by as much as 80 percent and the American Red Cross is working in partnership with the Veterans Crisis Line to help.

"This partnership provides a vital tool when dealing with such a sensitive and time critical issue," said Sherri Brown, senior vice president, Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces. "Immediate intervention during a possible suicide can make a huge difference and save a life."

The Red Cross and Veterans Crisis Line are working together to help ensure both groups – veterans and members of the military on active duty – are getting the help they need.

“People don’t understand the extent of this problem with our veterans,” said Dr. Jan Kemp, national mental health director for Suicide Prevention, Office of Mental Health Services, Veterans’ Administration. “We have taken the approach that one is too many. As long as veterans are taking their own lives, this is a serious problem.”

CRISIS LINE The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat or text.

If a call comes in to the crisis line from a veteran, the crisis line initiates actions to help. If a call comes in concerning someone currently on active duty, the call is immediately put through to the Red Cross. In close association with the military, the Red Cross can immediately locate the service member in crisis and request that the person’s command intervene to ensure the person is safe. The Red Cross can help regardless of where the person is currently serving, whether here at home, overseas, deployed to a combat zone or aboard a ship out at sea.

If someone is not on current assignment, the Crisis Line and Red Cross work with local law enforcement to assist in locating and intervening to help retirees, veterans and other military members.

“This partnership is vitally important,” Kemp said. “The first case involved someone on active duty in Iraq. We used the Red Cross to get to their commanders to get help immediately. We stayed on the phone with his mom and were able to save him. It took all of us to accomplish this.”

“We can make a difference in veterans’ lives by working together – friends and family, the Veterans Administration and the Red Cross and other organizations,” Kemp said. “If we wrap these services, along with care and compassion, around the veterans it will help them through these difficult times.”

In 2011, there were more than 100 instances in which the suicide prevention process involving active duty military personnel was initiated by the Red Cross through the partnership. Every one of these cases resulted in successful intervention by the person’s command, the service member receiving the necessary professional care.

The Red Cross intervened in more than 450 instances involving someone threatening to harm themselves or commit suicide last year. If the calls come from someone seeking suicide intervention, Red Cross works directly with the person’s command or with local authorities to provide the appropriate intervention.

Any member of the U.S. military, veteran or military family member can contact the American Red Cross Call Center or the Veteran and Military Crisis Lines 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at:

  • American Red Cross 1-877-272-7337
  • Veteran and Military Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
  • About the American Red Cross:
    The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.