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Suicide Prevention Message Rolls Through Cities Nationwide

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2009 – The Department of Veterans Affairs took to the road, literally, when it decided to advertise about its “VA Suicide Prevention Lifeline” on public transportation buses in 124 communities across the country.

“We continue to look for new, innovative ways to reach our veterans,” said Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs. “VA wants to make sure to exhaust all avenues to reach those in need of our services.”

Currently, that includes public service announcements by actor Gary Sinise and TV news personality Deborah Norville. Suicide prevention coordinators also have been passing out information for several months now, Jan Kemp, the VA’s national suicide prevention coordinator, said.

“There’s a lot of publicity going on. [The buses are] just one mechanism that we’re using to get the word out,” she said. “We’re kind of saturating the population as best we can.”

The current bus campaign began this month and will conclude Sept. 1. It started as a pilot program here and ran for about three months last summer.

“The calls in D.C. and the surrounding areas actually doubled toward the end of the campaign there,” Kemp said. “Our theory was that we would test it there and then roll it out to various other places.”

While none of the buses rolling through the nation’s capital now bear the VA’s suicide prevention ad, they may again as the campaign continues, Kemp indicated.

“I think we will cycle around again, but I think we recognize the fact that sometimes a consistent message doesn’t get seen as being new any more,” she said.

The cities currently seeing the ad on their public transportation were carefully selected based on the availability of that transportation and the suicide and attempted suicide rates in the area. VA officials also looked at the current call volume from those cities and whether the ads could make a difference.

Available resources also were taken into consideration, Kemp said.

The campaign is aimed at veterans, but because it is being advertised in a very public manner, there are bound to be civilians who see the number and call in. And that’s OK, Kemp said.

“We have arrangements with the national network of crisis centers to be able to transfer callers to the appropriate crisis center, depending on where they’re calling from,” she said. “Of course, if it’s an extreme emergency, we do what we need to do and help the person. Otherwise, it’s up to the [resources] in their area.”

What’s important is that if people thinks they’re in crisis, preferably before they hit the crisis point, they should reach out for help.

“Early intervention is really the key to suicide prevention,” Kemp said. “We can hook people up with local suicide prevention coordinators at all of our sites across the country, and … there truly is no shame in asking for help.”

The VA Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is staffed by trained mental health professionals prepared to deal with immediate crises 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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