NBC NEWS – The Veterans Crisis Line is fielding a record number of cries for help, the Department of Veterans Affairs said, amid increased mental health concerns for post-9/11 veterans and service members.
The suicide hotline received more than 88,000 calls, texts and chats in March — the highest amount of monthly contacts it has ever had, according to new federal data obtained by NBC News.
Last month’s figure is nearly 28% higher than the busiest of any month in the first 10 months of the pandemic and 15% higher than August 2021, when calls surged after Kabul fell to the Taliban.
“We’re on the front end of a mental health tsunami,” said Scott Mann, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served three tours in Afghanistan.
The number of annual contacts increased 15% from about 775,000 in 2020 to nearly 896,000 in 2022, VA statistics show. There were about 74,000 total contacts in March 2022, nearly 67,000 in March 2021, and roughly 67,500 in March 2020, according to the data.
In a statement, the VA said there is “no particular data that can be pointed to in order to fully explain the increases” but that a combination of factors, including outreach campaigns and the launch of the crisis line’s new 988 phone number, most likely led more people to use the hotline.
But many veterans said they believe the surge is directly related to the troubled end of the 20-year conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, which they fought simultaneously and without a draft, meaning they were deployed more than any other generation and for longer.
“Every time you came out of it, you were going right back into it,” said Jonathan Cleck, a former Navy SEAL.
Now, Cleck says, after the longest war in American history, “everything we’ve been able to suppress is now just bubbling up to the surface … ”