Monday, August 31, 2009

Depressed vets can now get help by chatting online with a VA counselor

Posted August 31st, 2009 by Megan McCloskey in Stripes Central

Veterans feeling suicidal but hesitant to seek help can now chat with a VA counselor anonymously online.

Suicides among servicemembers have increased alarmingly in the last few years, and the "Veterans Chat" program is a pilot effort to get more to reach out for help when feeling depressed.

The idea is that someone who might not take the step to go to a VA clinic could be more willing to talk about their feelings through the distance of an internet connection. There's a certain security and control that comes with that seperation. It's one step removed beyond even the Suicide Prevention Hotline, where having someone hear your voice over the phone can be too personal for some.

Struggling veterans - or their friends and family - can talk to someone at any time; counselors are online 24 hours a day. The user choses whatever name they want for the one-on-one chat.

The VA says the program, though, is not intended for crisis intervention. Anyone deemed to be in immediate danger by the chat counselor is encouraged by the counselor to call the hotline.

"Chat responders are trained in an intervention method specifically developed for the chat line to assist people with emotional distress and concerns," Janet Kemp, the VA's National Suicide Prevention Coordinator, said in a press release. "We have procedures they can use to transfer chatters in crisis to the hotline for more immediate assistance."

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