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WASHINGTON — The government’s new suicide prevention hot line for veterans fielded more than 22,000 calls from former servicemembers and another 30,000 from concerned family members in its first year.

Officials behind the effort called those figures an indicator that veterans are getting much-needed help, and said they hope to expand the resources available to them through the service in coming months.

"The more people who call before a crisis occurs, the better chance we have to help them," said Dr. Richard McKeon, public health adviser at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"We want to emphasize another at risk with other problems — depression, substance abuse — are welcome to call, too, because [those] could lead to more serious problems."

The hot line, launched last summer by SAMHSA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, is an extension of the federal National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Callers who are veterans are routed to a VA center in Canandaigua, N.Y., where mental health staff with specific knowledge of military issues and resources speak to callers.

All calls are confidential, and free from stateside locations.

McKeon said the large number of family members using the hot line was not a surprise, because often they can be the first to notice changes in a loved one’s demeanor.

"They might be calling about someone who, without their help, we’d never be able to reach," he said.

In coming months, hot line officials plan to better coordinate other care information — local VA facilities, information on benefits and emergency assistance programs — between the New York call center and regional offices. McKeon said other follow-up services are also under consideration.

"We’ve see that the risk of suicide decreases with a decrease in the feeling of hopelessness, and the hot line does that," he said. "But not all of the callers end up connecting with behavioral help resources afterwards, so we want to work on that."

Information on the hot line,(800) 273-8255, is also available

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