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The Veterans Crisis Line will have a new and simpler number — 988. The new number takes effect Saturday, July 16, 2022. The Department of Veterans Affairs expects calls to increase immediately and continue to grow for the next three years.

The Veterans Crisis Line will have a new and simpler number — 988. The new number takes effect Saturday, July 16, 2022. The Department of Veterans Affairs expects calls to increase immediately and continue to grow for the next three years. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

WASHINGTON — The Veterans Crisis Line will have a new and simpler phone number starting Saturday – 988.

"The new shorter number directly addresses the need for ease of access and clarity in times of crisis, both for veterans and non-veterans alike," said Tamara Campbell, acting executive director for the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA's 2021 National Suicide Prevention Annual Report states 6,261 veterans died by suicide in 2019. Firearm deaths accounted for more than 70% of veteran suicides that year.

In November, the White House unveiled a national strategy to reduce military and veteran suicide. The administration said when the 988 hotline launches, it will create a system that will aid recovery and wellness beyond the crisis point.

Matthew Miller, executive director for VA's suicide prevention, said the VA has increased staffing by more than 50% to meet the projected increase of calls when the new number launches.

He also said the VA developed and implemented a peer support outreach call center. The agency hired veterans to be part of a peer support outreach to call back veterans after their initial call to the Veterans Crisis Line in a veteran-to-veteran discussion on how they're doing and what they need.

In October 2020, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was signed into law, which designated 988 as the universal phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and connects people to a network of local crisis centers.

Multiple suicide prevention hotlines had been united under the 988 number since the law was enacted. The law also required all telephone service providers in the U.S. to activate 988 by July 16, the nationwide launch date.

"The [Veterans Crisis Line] has been preparing for this change since the inception of legislation," Campbell said. "Medical centers are working to update materials and communications with the new number to spread the word to veterans and their supporters and our community partners."

Bobbi Hauptmann, VA public affairs specialist, said the Veterans Crisis Line website also will be updated to coordinate with the activation of 988.

"It's one thing to answer the call quickly, [and] it's one thing to provide quality service within the call, both of which are absolutely essential," Miller said. "But what happens after the call? Our attention to after the call is something that uniquely distinguishes us within the VA and the Veterans Crisis Line."

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Sara Samora is a Marine Corps veteran and the veterans reporter for Stars and Stripes. A native Texan, she previously worked at the Houston Business Journal and the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. She also serves on the boards of Military Veterans in Journalism and the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals.
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