Merkley Announces New Suicide Hotline for Veterans

Medford, OR – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley visited the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City, OR today to discuss the high rates of suicide among veterans and his role in helping push for a new direct connection for veterans to access. Senator Merkley was joined at today’s event by Dan Davis, a local constituent who has been working for years to change the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suicide hotline to something easier for veterans to use.

“None of our sons and daughters, friends and neighbors who survived combat overseas should be casualties when they come home,” said Merkley. “We need to make sure that access to help for someone in crisis is as easy as it can be and today’s new suicide hotline by the VA will help connect veterans to care sooner.” 

Under the current VA system, when military veterans seek suicide prevention assistance, they call the local VA phone number and the recording refers them to a 1-800 suicide hotline number. Dan Davis, a resident of Talent, Oregon and a veteran himself, felt that there should be an easier way for veterans to get the help they need. He spent years trying to get an easier system for veterans seeking suicide prevention and finally brought the issue to Senator Merkley’s office earlier this year.

After Senator Merkley’s office contacted the VA and brought up Dan’s concerns, the VA notified the Senator that a new system was in the works. This new system – called Option 7 – will give callers in the midst of a suicide crisis the ability to get help by pressing one number after dialing the VA. This new system will be in place at all VA facilities by the end of the summer, but due to Dan Davis’ advocacy on the issue, the White City VA will have the new system in place by this Friday, June 3, 2016.

“We need to do much more to help our veterans who are struggling with mental illness and depression, but my hope is that this small change will help save lives,” said Merkley. “We would never leave our wounded troops behind on the battlefield and we can’t leave them behind here at home.” 

The Oregon Public Health department released a report in 2014 that showed that suicide is the leading cause of death among veterans under 45 years of age. And the suicide rate is significantly higher among veterans than among non-veterans.