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Coming Home: Canandaigua VA Expanding to Stop Suicides

America has a crisis on its hands. Thousands of men and women who have served our country are killing themselves each year. News 8 intoroduces you to an army of local responders leading the nation's fight to save Veteran's lives and get them help.

America we have a crisis on our hands. Thousands of men and women who have served our country are killing themselves each year. These aren't just people coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Older veterans are committing suicide at an alarming rate. And an army of local responders is leading the nation's fight to save their lives and get them help.

When a United States Veteran anywhere in the world calls the VA's Crisis Line it rings here in Canandaigua. A highly trained Responder like Peter Grant is ready to help. "We listen intently in terms of what that veteran is communicating to us. Not only in their words but in their tone. um They may be crying, they may be in a crisis situation." 

Peter served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. "Every day it's an honor to serve our veterans. And I keep that in mind when they call."

Doctor Caitlin Thompson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Rochester and Coordinator of the VA's Veterans Crisis Line. There's no other place like this in the country. It's the heart of the government's response to an alarming number of Veteran's killing themselves.

The latest research shows 18 Veterans commit suicide each day in America. That's almost 6,600 a year. The VA says the suicide rate for Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is 21 percent higher than the general population. Those same Veterans accounted for 19 percent of all suicides "attempts" in America last year.

Doctor Thompson says the VA is working to figure out why veterans are killing themselves. "That's a great question, and one we are really trying to better understand."

There are many theories: Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been on multiple tours, which means added stress and relationship problems after being separated from family for so long. A large number have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Medical care has improved which means vets are surviving once fatal injuries. They often come home and get depressed. Vets have higher unemployment rates. More problems with substance abuse. They take more risks and don't ask for help, especially older vets.

The perception of the many veterans groups is that the VA has made improvements but there's still a long way to go. We asked Doctor Thompson if that's Fair? "There is always going to be a long way to go until we are able to end suicide with the veteran population. But at the same time we have come such a long way, even in the last 4 or 5 years."

Since the Veteran Crisis line opened in 2007 they've received close to 600,000 calls. And the number grows larger every year. The VA is planning for the future by throwing more resources into Canandaigua. There is another major expansion going on to make room for more Responders to help Veterans. In the beginning they had 15 employees. Today there are 185. And they'll hire another 100 by the first of the year.

To make it easier for Vets to reach the VA, they've added an internet Chat Line, a Texting Line and a line for specifically for Vets who are homeless. Dr. Thompson says the VA is ready. All vets have to do is ask for help. "We are hear for you, we want to hear from you. We want you to reach out because we want to support you in what you're dealing with."

Peter Grant says everyone on the frontlines in Canandaigua cares deeply about our veterans. "It's just a good feeling when you interact with a person in crisis and you know that you're training and what we do here makes a difference in their life. The community should be proud of what we do here for our veterans."

The Canandaigua model is working so well the Pentagon is now using it to help active duty Veterans in crisis. Doctor Thompson has recently moved to Washington, DC. She's working on combining the suicide hotlines of each branch of the armed forces under one umbrella..

We have many resources for Veterans.

The toll free number to the VA's Veteran's Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.

Veterans, family members or friends can access Veterans Chat service and get information on-line.

The hotline to provide emergency support and resources to Veterans who are homeless is 1-877-424-3838.

The Veteran's Outreach Center has many free resources for veterans in the Rochester Region.

Warrior Salute is a service of CDS Monarch that helps Veterans from all over the country with PTSD.

To talk with Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Tom Porpiglia at Life Script Counseling Services in Rochester call 585-704-0376.

Read about the Veterans Stress Project and EFT here.

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