DANVILLE — Veterans in crisis no longer have to keep the problem a secret — especially if it’s something life-threatening, such as thoughts of suicide.
“We’re here. We’re proactive,” said Natalie Liggett, MSW, LCSW, suicide prevention care manager at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System. “Suicide prevention is everyone’s business.”
In the past, mental health issues carried a stigma, and people kept problems a secret. Today, the VA is actively bringing the topic out into the open and making sure veterans get the care they need — before something happens.
“One of our main goals is awareness and reaching out,” said Bonnie Ellis, suicide prevention coordinator, who has been with the local VA for more than 20 years. She has been with the Suicide Prevention Program since it started five years ago.
She believes the program, which is part of the mental health department, is making a difference, saying, “I think we’ve really enhanced our care to reach veterans who may be at risk.”
The Veterans Crisis Line, which is based in New York, started with 50 responders, and now there are more than 100 people responding to crises.
“It’s a very good system,” she said. “Crisis responders are unique in their expertise, to assess the problem and facilitate care.”
When a vet calls the national crisis line, the responder will take immediate action and also contact the local crisis workers. With the veteran’s permission, Ellis and Liggett will set up outpatient care, if appropriate, or make other arrangements to make sure that he or she gets help.
“A lot of times, we’re educating a veteran or the family member for the first time on how we function,” Ellis said, and also registering the veteran for services.
Liggett and Ellis make at least five presentations a month to agencies in the communities served by the Illiana System. They also hold trainings for new employees.