VETERAN SUICIDES

 

In Recognition of “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on February 22, 2015.

Last night “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” received the Academy Award for best Documentary Short at the 87th annual award ceremony in Hollywood, California. The documentary provided a glimpse of the hidden world of VA’s nationwide veterans crisis hotline, putting faces on the sea of humanity—mental health professionals, call center employees, friends and family members of American veterans, and others—who are vigilante and pour their heart and souls into saving lives every single day.  Ellen Goosenberg Kent, HBO filmmaker, and Dana Heinz Perry, producer, accepted the award.

The recent suicide of Hollywood actor Robin Williams, still fresh in our minds, reminds us that suicide is a very complex, yet equal opportunity enemy. It claims victims from every walks of life, socio-economic status, and education level, and doesn’t care what religion, gender, marital status, color, heritage, or even how old a person is. Suicide is very hard for most people to understand as there are often no concrete signs or symptoms that a layperson can look out for.

Suicide is often considered to be a modern problem, but it is as old as history itself. We just hear more about suicide nowadays because we are inundated with information. Before the 1500s, most knowledge was preserved in the hands of society’s elite—religious and government leaders, wealthy or scientific men—often in journals and other texts not easily available to the common citizen. After the end of feudalism and the invention of the printing press, around 1450 A.D., information became more accessible in newspapers and books for general circulation. Since the Industrial Revolution of the late  1700s, people have made more money, and inventions such as the telegraph, telephone, and radio expanded the speed and methods of getting information. The frequency of suicide reports in newspapers—especially those of war veterans—is most evident after World War I

VHA’s ancestors, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance and Public Health Service, took action to help alleviate problems that arose with World War I veterans. They worked in conjunction with the Federal Board of Hospitalization and American College of Surgeon to establish specialized neuro-psychiatric hospitals beginning around 1920 to help turn the tide of World War I veteran suicides and “shell shock” cases. The development of social work, psychology and psychotherapy, and even VA’s Voluntary Service program, all had their roots in work committed to improving World War I veterans’ mental health.

In 2007 VA established a 24-hour suicide hotline at Canandaigua, New York, in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The first call was answered on July 25, 2007 and within two months the call center had received 4,500 calls and saved over 50 lives. In 2008 VA embarked on a nationwide advertising campaign to disseminate the hotline’s phone number far and wide. To-date the call center has saved thousands of veterans’ lives.

Links:

http://veteranscrisisline.net/; http://veteranscrisisline.net/GetHelp/ResourceLocator.aspx

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/08/31/executive-order-improving-access-mental-health-services-veterans-service

Ellen Goosenberg Kent: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0329651/

Dana Heinz Perry: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0675017/

Historian, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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