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Submission For The Record of Oregon Partnership , Portland, OR

Chairman Mitchell, Ranking Member Roe, and Members of the Committee,

An alarming threat to the well-being of our active military and veterans is emerging.

In the past several years, members of the military, veterans and their families have placed an increasing number of calls to Oregon’s statewide crisis lines, operated by the nonprofit Oregon Partnership (OP).

While calls to Oregon Partnership’s 24-7 Suicide Intervention line have more than doubled since June of 2008 because of the economic downturn, we were surprised to learn of a corresponding increase in calls from the military.  Since March 2009, OP’s Crisis Lines have received over 1,600 calls from members of the military, veterans and their families.

These calls have run the gamut - from suicide and substance abuse to concerns about symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and questions about jobs about health benefits.

As a result, this past spring Oregon Partnership established a Military Helpline to meet the tremendous and growing need for compassionate, confidential crisis intervention and referral.  The line—one of five specifically targeted crisis lines at OP—is operated by highly trained and dedicated staff and volunteers who are on hand around the clock.  Some possess a military background, bringing a strong understanding of the daunting challenges our citizen soldiers and their families face.

There is no question that America must do right by the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country.

After experiencing war, life back home can be overwhelming.  Issues such as unemployment, family strife, the loss of a home, PTSD and other serious health care concerns descend as soldiers return from long - and often repeated - deployments.  These challenges may stop them from seeking help at all.

What Oregon Partnership found was a huge gap in services—a gap that is serious and time-sensitive.

Soldiers, veterans and their families desperately need the immediate and confidential help that 24 hour crisis lines offer—crisis lines operated outside the military and the Veterans Administration.

There is a clear and present stigma in the military culture about seeking help for mental illness, emotional distress and contemplation of suicide.  Recent efforts by the Department of Defense to diffuse this are to be applauded, but have decades of practice to overcome.

Many active duty soldiers or members of the reserves are hesitant to seek help within the military health care system because of fear that it would appear on their military record, jeopardize their security clearance and/or impact promotion opportunities.

So often, men and women separating from the military are reluctant to access the VA because of perceived agency dysfunction, claims denial, red tape, and frustration about the length of the process. 

It is vital that veterans and active military can call a confidential line and speak anonymously if they so choose.  It’s all about reacting quickly, compassionately and effectively in time-sensitive situations, and providing for the safety of those suffering from invisible wounds.

Recently, a severely depressed and suicidal veteran called our helpline.  Wheelchair-bound and without transportation to the VA to get his prescribed medication, he was ready to kill himself.  We connected him with the Portland VA Medical Center’s suicide prevention team and secured a quick resolution to his life-threatening situation.  Without our helpline, he was tragically slipping through the cracks.

A confidential military helpline is a valuable tool for returning soldiers who struggle with PTSD.  Early intervention and assessment is key.  And Oregon Partnership’s Military Helpline provides that, guiding individuals and families on a path to safety and healing.

In establishing the Military Helpline, Oregon Partnership has received unwavering support from the Oregon Military Department and the Oregon National Guard.  They have been and will continue to be tremendous partners in this life-saving work.

The brave men and women who have served us so faithfully deserve our faithfulness in return.  Oregon Partnership urges Congress to help robustly support these non-military lifelines.