Sunday, June 17, 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
Chicago soldier killed in Korea finally being laid to rest

Chicago soldier killed in Korea finally being laid to rest

CHICAGO — Not long after her father went missing during the Korean War, Carol Elkin spotted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in downtown Chicago and did what any kid might do when coming face to face with the nation’s most famous soldier: She ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Howard Altman: New Port Richey veteran out front in campaign for burn-pit benefits

Howard Altman: New Port Richey veteran out front in campaign for burn-pit benefits

Last week, the halls of Congress became the latest battleground in a campaign by tens of thousands of veterans seeking acknowledgment of the health problems they suffer from exposure to open-air refuse burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.Nav...
Published: 06/14/18
Airman with top-secret clearance, who disappeared in 1983, is discovered living in California

Airman with top-secret clearance, who disappeared in 1983, is discovered living in California

Before he mysteriously disappeared and landed on the Air Force Most Wanted list, Capt. William Howard Hughes Jr. phoned home to tell his mother and father that he was going to the Netherlands.It was July 17, 1983, and the Air Force was sending Hughes...
Published: 06/12/18

Marine Corps weighs wooing older members for new cyber force

SAN DIEGO — The head of the Marine Corps says it’s time the U.S. military branch known for its fierce, young warriors becomes a little more mature. The Marine Corps is considering offering bonuses and other perks to entice older, more experienced Mar...
Published: 06/08/18
Updated: 06/09/18
Military members stationed overseas fret as flying pets home gets harder

Military members stationed overseas fret as flying pets home gets harder

Missy Lee, a civilian who works for the U.S. Army, paid Delta Air Lines $5,000 to transport her two white shepherds as cargo on the same flight she took when moving to Japan in 2014.In the years since, the industry of shipping pets overseas has drast...
Published: 06/07/18
Howard Altman: Calls to veterans hotline jump after program expands statewide

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...
Published: 06/06/18
Updated: 06/13/18
How to spot neo-Nazis in the military? Brandon Russell case shows how hard it is

How to spot neo-Nazis in the military? Brandon Russell case shows how hard it is

When Brandon Russell joined the Florida Army National Guard in January 2016, the service noted the radiation-warning symbol tattooed on his right shoulder.No one saw it as suspicious. Seventeen months later, it figured into the slaying of two young m...
Published: 06/04/18
Howard Altman: New base commander at sultry MacDill helped run South Pole airlifts

Howard Altman: New base commander at sultry MacDill helped run South Pole airlifts

One of the most frustrating aspects of covering the military is how often change takes place.Just when you start to get to someone, boom, they move on.The latest case in point is Air Force Col. April Vogel, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing at M...
Updated one month ago
From the archives: A story for Jake

From the archives: A story for Jake

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on May 27, 2007. It is being republished in honor of Memorial Day.Oct. 22, 2006, approx. 7:30 p.m.,St. Lawrence Catholic Church, TampaShe makes her way down the aisle of a church, eyes locked on the ...
Updated one month ago
Sun City Center veteran finds honor in remembrance

Sun City Center veteran finds honor in remembrance

Editor’s note: Times correspondent Bob Black, a resident of Sun City Center, shares his thoughts about the Honor Flight of West Central Florida he enjoyed in April. The organization strives to recognize U.S. Veterans for their sacrifice and service b...
Updated one month ago