WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives moved forward a measure Tuesday aimed at helping veterans suffering from mental health issues and addressing the larger rate of veterans’ suicide.
A final vote is expected later this week.
“This is a lifetime work and many, many lifetimes beyond,” Gregg Keesling said, who lost his son Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling in 2009 when he committed suicide while serving in Iraq. “From where I stand, and I have that perch because our son’s not with us, we can see the advancements we’ve made. It’s significant.”
When Spc. Keesling died, the Veterans Crisis line was in its infancy.
The hotline, created a decade ago to address a spike in suicide among veterans, has since fielded an estimated three million phone calls and 67,000 text messages, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said, who sponsored the legislation.
To access the Veterans Crisis Line:
- Call 800-273-8255, press 1
- Text 838255
- Chat online at veteranscrisisline.net
“Really what we want to do with this legislation is really get to the bottom of how effective the hotline is and what we can do to make it better moving forward,” Banks said.
The measure would direct a first-of-its kind study and analysis of the hotline to ensure the resource is helping veterans not only during their initial call but in follow-ups with mental health resources.
Banks said in recent weeks the legislation was strengthened to ensure the privacy of veterans who use the service remain in-tact.
A report in March by the inspector general found about 30 percent of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line were going to backup centers and placed on hold.
“I hear those stories from veterans who weren’t properly served, who waited on hold for too long,” Banks said. “Those situations are troubling.”
Since then, the VA has opened a new call center and officials said the rate has dramatically improved.
“Today the rate is less than one percent,” VA Secretary David Shulkin told Congress this summer.
Banks said the new legislation will use data analytics to set the baseline for any additional action. Federal data shows on average 20 veterans commit suicide each day.
“The hotline is being used by our veterans,” he said. “It is also emblematic of the situation our veterans face – those who are contemplating suicide, suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries.”
Keesling said he applauds the work in Congress, but also adds he knows first-hand the responsibility to help veterans is widespread.
“It’s still on us,” he said. “The commanders, the families to make that crisis line work. There’s no magical line that is going to solve the problems of people who are in trauma."