November 21, 2008 – Staffers at the national suicide prevention hotline for veterans, located at the Canandaigua Veterans Affairs Medical Center, received a pat on the back Thursday during a visit from Dr. James B. Peake, U.S. secretary of veterans affairs.
He praised the work of the hotline, which has received about 85,000 calls since it opened in late July 2007. Nearly 37,000 callers so far were veterans – including nearly 1,000 active duty military personnel. That means the hotline averages 101 calls from veterans per day.
The Canandaigua hotline has summoned emergency care for 2,130 people deemed to be at imminent risk.
“I’ve been bragging about this place for the year I’ve been in office,” Peake said. He was sworn into office in December and is responsible for the $77.3 billion national V.A. system of health care, benefits and national cemeteries for America’s veterans and their dependents.
Jan Kemp, V.A. national suicide prevention coordinator, said from her Canandaigua office that she believes Peake took away a sense of awe. “It’s resources well spent,” she said. “It was extremely gratifying to me to be able to show him what his undying support has produced.”
The visit was a marked turnaround from five years ago, when the V.A. proposed closing the Canandaigua campus to cut costs.
Peake said that the Canandaigua V.A. has adapted remarkably since it was built in 1933. At its peak it housed 1,700 veterans. Now, only about 200 veterans live at the center and about 18,000 are treated as outpatients a year. Future plans call for creating a 120-bed nursing home, a new 50-bed residential rehabilitation facility and a renovated outpatient building.
“It is the role of the V.A. to be there, to take care of those that served this nation,” said Peake, a decorated Vietnam veteran.
Nationally, Peake said the V.A. is improving care by opening 44 new community-based outpatient clinics in 2009, extending evening and Saturday hours, and combining mental health and primary care at veterans hospitals and outpatient clinics.
The agency continues to study how best to deliver care and when to best assess whether military personnel need mental health support. Research and mental health treatment efforts at the Canandaigua V.A. in collaboration with the psychiatry department at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry are part of that work.
Additional National Suicide Prevention Hotline Facts
The national suicide prevention lifeline number is (800) 273-8255. Callers hear a recording inviting veterans or those calling with concern for a veteran to press 1. Those calls are routed to the V.A. National Suicide Prevention Hotline in Canandaigua. In its first 15 months, that call center handled:
84,541 calls in all.
2,130 callers were at imminent risk and emergency care was summoned.
36,913 callers were veterans.
964 callers were active duty military personnel.
5,059 callers were family or friends of a veteran.
7,935 veterans agreed to receive follow-up calls from a suicide prevention coordinator at their local VA.
4,301 nonveterans were transferred to their local community’s hotline.