Saving the Lives of Heros: The Vital Role of the Veterans/Military Crisis Line in Preventing Military Suicides 

The 988 system can provide our military service members with the resources to prevent a crisis from becoming a tragedy. 

Sergeant John H. understood fighting—the dangers, the enemy, the adrenaline rush, the brotherhood. A combat veteran on this third overseas tour, he was ready to face whatever came at him head-on. 

Or so he thought. 

On his return home, John realized he was struggling with a host of unseen internal adversaries: PTSD, feelings of isolation, and a general alienation from civilian life. His attempts to resolve these issues through self-medication, withdrawal, and reckless impulsivity probably sound disturbingly familiar to many veterans and their loved ones; things quickly went from bad to unsustainable. 

After months of suffering in silence and explosive frustration, John finally mustered the courage to seek help. He picked up his cellphone and dialed “988,” then pressed “1.” 

Over the following year, through compassionate listening and supportive, expert guidance, he found the path he desperately needed to begin his long journey toward healing. 

In the ongoing struggle against the devastating epidemic of military suicides, a powerful new tool has arisen: the Veterans/Military Crisis Line system. As a crucial lifeline for active-duty personnel and veterans alike, this system can serve as a beacon of hope, offering immediate support and intervention to those in crisis. The Veterans/Military Crisis Line system is a game-changer in the fight to heal the souls and save the lives of our most fearless and honorable citizens.  

The Foundation: Understanding the 988 System 

In July 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously voted to establish 988 as the new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—this decision aimed at simplifying access to mental health support and reducing the stigma associated with seeking help. Callers are directly connected with mental health professionals trained in suicide prevention and crisis counseling. 

The Unique Needs of Military Personnel 

While the implementation of 988 was a significant step forward in addressing America’s mental-health crises, it soon became evident that veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families faced unique challenges—deployments, combat exposure, the transition to and from civilian life—that required mental-health support tailored to their unique experiences. Recognizing this, the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) began planning on the integration of the “988 + 1” dialing capability within the DoD unclassified telephone network to ensure military members can access the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) at any time. 

Building upon the infrastructure established for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (988), the DoD integrated the “988 + 1” capability into existing DoD telephone systems, ensuring seamless coordination between the civilian and military telephone networks. This allowed access to VA mental-health support professionals and enabled service members to access support from any unclassified DoD telephone. 

The resulting system is a specialized helpline designed to provide mental-health support and crisis intervention tailored explicitly to military members, veterans, and their families. Service members dialing “988” and pressing “1” are immediately connected to VCL professionals whose training and personal experience qualify them to understand the unique challenges and experiences faced by those who have served in the armed forces. By offering a confidential and judgment-free space to talk about their struggles, the 988 + 1 service can provide service members with the assistance and resources they need to prevent a crisis from becoming a tragedy.  

Immediate Availability: Reaching Military Members Anywhere 

Early intervention is a critical element in preventing military suicides, and the 988 + 1 system plays a pivotal role in providing immediate support to those in crisis, regardless of their geographical location. Service members can access the counseling and support they need from any DoD telephone switch, however remote, simply by dialing the designated number. This level of accessibility is crucial, as it ensures that no individual is left to struggle alone, even in distant or isolated locations. 

The VCL infrastructure was completed in 2022, and the 9-8-8 dialing capability was officially activated on all U.S. military installations in the same year. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms were established to assess the hotline’s effectiveness and identify areas for improvement, allowing for continuous refinement of the system to meet the evolving needs of the military community. As of January 2024, the VCL has taken over 7.6 million calls, 360,000 texts, and 910,000 online chats since its establishment.   

To ensure that service members knew about the new service and how to use it, the DoD launched training and awareness campaigns at its camps, posts, and bases worldwide. These campaigns included educational materials, briefings, and outreach efforts to promote mental health awareness and encourage help-seeking behaviors among service members. 

Chat and SMS Messaging for the Veterans/Military Crisis Line Service 

Recognizing the importance of providing multiple options for those seeking assistance and the communications preferences of the DoD’s younger members, the VCL service also includes chat ( and SMS (Text 838255) messaging capabilities. These allow service members to access support discreetly and conveniently, especially in environments or operations where making a phone call might not be a realistic option. 

The Voice on the other End of the Line 

The mental health specialists and counselors who field incoming communications within the 988 + 1 system undergo intense, specialized training and education to enable them to understand and address the unique challenges military personnel face. This training includes cultural sensitivity, understanding the military lifestyle, and familiarity with resources available to service members and their families. 

The work of these specialists and counselors can often mean the difference between life and death. Consider the case of Sarah K., a military spouse grappling with the stresses of multiple deployments and the strain they placed on her family. Feeling overwhelmed and alone, Sarah dialed 988 + 1 and was met with immediate empathy and understanding. The counselor on the other end of the line listened to Sarah without judgment, offering support and resources that ultimately guided her forward. Sarah said, “The support I received helped me cope with the challenges I was facing and strengthened my resilience and sense of community.” 

John Smith, a 988 + 1 Counselor, notes, “Working with military personnel through 988 + 1 has been incredibly rewarding. We can provide tailored support that acknowledges the unique challenges they face.” 

Dr. Sarah Johnson, a Mental Health Specialist, concurs: “The feedback we receive from callers who have used 988 + 1 is overwhelmingly positive. They appreciate the anonymity, understanding, and resources we offer.” 

While these testimonials provide subjective insight into the positive impact of 988 + 1, it’s important to continue gathering data and conducting research to assess its effectiveness. As the system continues to evolve and expand, ongoing evaluation will be essential in refining and optimizing its services to serve the mental health needs of military personnel. 

As we continue to combat the epidemic of military suicides, the importance of the Veterans/Military Crisis Line system cannot be overstated. It is a testament to our commitment to honoring the sacrifices of those who have served by ensuring they receive the care and support they deserve. As we strive for a future where no service member needs to suffer in silence, the Veterans/Military Crisis Line hotline helps ensure that help is always within reach.