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Program Reaches Out to Educate Veterans about Suicide Hotline

By Meghan Vittrup
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 18, 2008 – The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a pilot outreach program to encourage veterans to use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline -- 1-800-273-TALK (8255) -- if they need help.

The program is being launched July 21 “to see if it helps raise awareness for veterans,” said Lisette Mondello, Veterans Affairs assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs.

The program will take place over a three-month period and will first launch in the Washington, D.C., metro area, VA officials said. It will include paid advertising in Washington, D.C., metro stations, metro rail cars, and buses. Aside from signs and posters, the program also will include a public service announcement recorded by actor Gary Sinise.

Mondello said the department will be monitoring the number of calls being made to the VA’s suicide hotline. If the advertising program proves successful, the VA will consider extending it to other regions.

Washington D.C. was chosen as the program’s launch site for several reasons, Mondello said. The area has a large military and veteran population, while it is also a “tight” region that is easy to track. The region also is home to a public transportation system that allows advertising.

The VA also plans to increase personnel coordinating the program, answering calls, and tracking calls in the region. The suicide hotline pilot outreach program will continue through middle or late October.

The first advertisements will be going up July 21, while a second wave of advertising will go up sometime between August and September, Mondello said.

A rule change this month allows for the VA to use paid advertising to reach out to veterans and increase their awareness of programs and benefits. “On July 16, the secretary [of veterans affairs] lifted the prohibition on paid advertising,” Mondello said, and it is now another option for outreach.

Combat veterans are eligible to receive VA health care benefits as well as screening for post-traumatic stress disorder for up to five years after they discharge from the military, according to a press release from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Related Sites:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
VA information on suicide-prevention awareness

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