Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Military News

Howard Altman: Calls to veterans hotline jump after program expands statewide

During the first three months of its expanded, statewide hotline for veterans, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay estimates about 2,000 former service members called in seeking help because they were considering suicide.

That’s a powerful testament to the problem and the need for the (844) MyFLVet (693-5838) Florida Veterans Support Line, said Clara Reynolds, the organization’s chief executive.

"We are helping keep veterans alive and connected to the services they need," Reynolds said.

The hotline, staffed by veterans, was launched in October 2014 in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Pasco and Manatee counties, Reynolds said. In 2016, the hotline received a five-year, $750,000 contract from the state Department of Children and Families for operations.

Reynolds said veterans feel far more comfortable talking to other veterans about their issues, echoing sentiments expressed by a large number of veteran advocate organizations and behavioral health specialists.

Last year, the Legislature awarded the organization a one-year, $400,000 grant through the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs to take the hotline statewide. Reynolds said that through existing technology, callers anywhere in the state are linked up to the local 211 hotline system in their region. The advantage, she said, is that veterans can be connected with needed services where they live.

By calling the hotline, Florida veterans who are struggling with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, relationship troubles and personal finances can connect confidentially to emotional support and community resources, 24 hours a day, according to the State Department of Veterans Affairs website.

During its first three years, the hotline received about 3,300 calls per year. Once the program was expanded statewide, it received about 10,000 calls in just the last quarter of 2017 alone, nearly doubling the total from the previous three years, Reynolds said.

Callers seek help on a wide range of needs, including employment assistance and navigating the often-daunting Department of Veterans Affairs health and benefits programs. But Reynolds said most callers were seeking behavioral health help — nearly 60 percent of them on both the local and statewide hotlines.

More than a third of those callers said they were suicidal, Reynolds said.

State veterans affairs officials laud the hotline system.

"We pride ourselves on being the most veteran-friendly state through our support of the more than 1.5 million veterans that reside in Florida," said Veterans Affairs Department spokesman Steve Murray. "We are honored to support this initiative as part of our goal to ensure Florida veterans receive their earned services, benefits and support."

As part of the statewide expansion, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay has placed a unique message on a billboard near MacDill Air Force Base: "Stitches of Duty," made entirely of military gear donated by veterans.

Still, the organization didn’t meet all its objectives, failing to persuade lawmakers to allocate an additional $2.1 million to hire veterans to staff phone lines statewide — not just in the Tampa Bay area.

"I am hoping the Legislature reconsiders our request," Reynolds said. "We are still losing between 20 to 22 veterans a day to suicide."

• • •

The Pentagon last week announced no new casualties in ongoing operations.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 50 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel; 54 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

Comments
Howard Altman: Tampa World War II veteran turning 100 recalls guarding prisoners then celebs

Howard Altman: Tampa World War II veteran turning 100 recalls guarding prisoners then celebs

Frank Sorbera was a band boy for the Russ Morgan Orchestra, lugging equipment and driving vehicles, all the while hoping to one day join the big band outfit as a singer.But it was 1944, World War II was grinding on and Uncle Sam had other plans for t...
Published: 09/13/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Saved by a hunk of marble, Trinity man recalls harrowing escape from World Trade Center

Saved by a hunk of marble, Trinity man recalls harrowing escape from World Trade Center

TAMPA — Shortly before 9 a.m. on a beautiful morning 17 years ago, Greg Amira was making his way up to his office on the 73rd floor in the south tower of the World Trade Center.He felt the building shake."I assumed Building No. 1 was hit," Amira said...
Published: 09/11/18
Updated: 09/12/18
Experts say it’s likely Cuba embassy workers were sickened by ‘directed energy’ weapons

Experts say it’s likely Cuba embassy workers were sickened by ‘directed energy’ weapons

There is a "high probability" that U.S. embassy workers sickened in Cuba in late 2016 were attacked by a "directed energy" weapon, a biochemistry expert told officials from U.S. Special Operations Command and its Ybor City-based incubator partner Sof...
Published: 09/06/18
Updated: 09/07/18
World War II nurse, turning 100 in Tampa, recalls the pain of invisible wounds

World War II nurse, turning 100 in Tampa, recalls the pain of invisible wounds

TAMPA — During her time as an Army nurse in World War II, treating the wounded in North Africa, Normandy and the Ardennes Forest, Martha Cameron proved to be a pioneer in more ways than one.One of the first women to land in France after D-day, part o...
Published: 09/05/18
Updated: 09/06/18
SOCom is asking to see all kinds of drones, some for delivering blood to the battlefield

SOCom is asking to see all kinds of drones, some for delivering blood to the battlefield

On a far-flung battlefield, 100 miles from the nearest treatment center, a Navy corpsman signals for a small drone to bring life-saving blood to a wounded commando.Meanwhile, a tiny drone shaped like a bug spies on enemy leaders. Another small drone ...
Updated one month ago
Howard Altman: Carrollwood veteran gets hero’s welcome retrieving dog tags from Normandy

Howard Altman: Carrollwood veteran gets hero’s welcome retrieving dog tags from Normandy

Nearly 75 years after first coming ashore in France as a young Army soldier, Boris Stern returned this summer to offer thanks to those who helped return his long-lost dog tag.He arrived to a hero’s welcome."I’ve been all over the world," said Stern, ...
Updated one month ago
Paralyzed veteran finishes fund-raising wheelchair ride from New York to Pinellas Park

Paralyzed veteran finishes fund-raising wheelchair ride from New York to Pinellas Park

TAMPA — A paralyzed veteran has finished a two-week, $1,500 fund-raising ride that started in New York, setting out from Tampa at 9 a.m. today in his hand-crank cycle and reaching the finish line in Pinellas Park just before 1 p,m,Ricky Raley is rais...
Updated one month ago