'911' for veterans: Bill would make crisis hotline number just 3 digits

Photo credit Photo by Zachary Hada/55th Wing Public Affairs

A bill introduced to the U.S. Senate would create a "911" for veterans in crisis. Instead of veterans having to dial the 1-800 number for the Veterans Crisis Line they would dial a three-digit code, making it easier to get help in times od distress.

The Suicide Prevention by Eliminating Excessive Digits (SPEED) Act would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make the change. The Veterans Crisis Line, created in 2007, has answered more than 3.5 million calls.

The bipartisan effort was introduced by Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.V., John Boozman, R-Ark., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Dan Sullivan, R-Ark., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. 

More than 20 veterans die by suicide daily, nearly two times higher than the rate for civilians, according to Department of Veterans Affairs data, and a multitude of bills have been filed by both chambers this session with various prevention efforts and funding. 

“When it comes to expanding veterans' access to mental health care and improving our suicide prevention efforts, we need to do better,” said Tester, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “By creating a more direct and effective line of communication for veterans in crisis, help can be on the way faster. This is a necessary step that breaks down needless barriers, ultimately saving veteran lives.”

"Despite the significant resources we have allocated toward suicide prevention efforts, the number of veterans who take their own lives every day remains unchanged. More work must be done to find ways to reach veterans in need. Establishing a three-digit number that is easy for veterans to remember, and quick to access in a crisis is one simple way we can save more lives. We simply have to do everything in our power to move the needle in the right direction,” Boozman said.

“Suicide has plagued the veteran community for far too long, and though many steps have been taken to address this issue, it’s clear that more must be done to save the lives of those at risk. DAV supports the bipartisan SPEED Act as a measure to expedite help for veterans in crisis,” said Dennis Dixon, DAV national commander.

Bill sponsors said the legislation has garnered the support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). 

For more information on potential warning signs of suicide, click here.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1 for a VA staff member). Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to veteranscrisisline.net.
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