|U.S. Soldiers and Sailors, assigned to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A), salute as the national anthem plays during the CJSOTF-A Memorial Day ceremony at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 30, 2011. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Marcus J. Quarterman/Released)|
The online "chat" at MilitaryHelpline.org lit up very early in the morning this week in Portland. Half a world away, in Afghanistan, it was 6 p.m. and a service member needed emotional backup. Stigma was preventing him from seeking help from the mental health tent provided by the military. He told the veteran manning the crisis line computer that "visiting them is not a really good thing around here." "Here" is a combat zone. He said he didn't feel safe taking the issue up the chain of command. Although he knew he needed help, concern about losing his security clearance as well as being perceived as weak was stopping him. By the end of the anonymous chat on the confidential website, he said he was grateful to have found a "safe place to let it all out" without worry of repercussions and wrapped up the conversation by writing, "Thanks for letting me clear my head."
"The fact is that each year we lose as many veterans to suicide in the United States as we have lost troops to combat over the last nine years, combined," said Josh Groesz, Iraq war veteran and director of the Military Helpline. "With Memorial Day here, it's important that we help all of our veterans be successful."
The ability to conduct anonymous online "chats" is just one of the many services available through the nonprofit Military Helpline, whose phone lines handle thousands of military-related calls a year.
The Military Helpline is a free service of Lines for Life, a civilian-run nonprofit that has been preventing alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide since 1993. Though they work in partnership with them, they are independent of any branch of the military or government. The result is that all conversations can remain completely anonymous, and the service member or family member can talk without fear of repercussions.
The Military Helpline is staffed 24/7/365 by veterans and professional volunteers trained in military culture. They assist active duty service members, veterans and their families with concerns including alcohol and drug abuse, domestic problems, financial difficulties, job challenges, emotional distress, Post Traumatic Stress, thoughts of suicide and other challenges.
The issues also impact family members, who may experience the emotional and financial stress. Family members often don't realize they are impacted almost as much as their soldiers and are encouraged to call the line, (888) 457-4838, or use the chat function at www.MilitaryHelpline.org.
Those interested in volunteering on the line or wanting to financially support the service will find more on the website www.MilitaryHelpline.org.