988 lifeline: Veterans mental health crisis help available

The new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline was officially activated nationwide Saturday, July 16. The resource provides a quick way to get help during a mental health emergency.

The lifeline has a unique feature for one vulnerable group in particular. Veterans and service members can call 988 and then dial 1 to be connected with someone who is specifically qualified to help veterans.

"I need that contact as a veteran in crisis," said Otis Winstead, president and CEO of Great Lakes Dryhootch. "I myself have had to call 911 in the past, I’ve had other vets that have had to call 911."

READ MORE: How the new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline works in Wisconsin

When in crisis, Winstead knows how important it is for someone to be there. Dryhootch, a nonprofit organization, is there to support veterans.

"Coming out of the military, that transition is difficult for a lot of veterans," he said. "That’s what Dryhootch is all about – peer mentorship."

Dryhootch in Milwaukee

"As a population, veterans are particularly vulnerable to mental health crisis," said Mary Kolar, Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs secretary.

Kolar said she often hears fellow veterans share one sentiment in particular: "Of the men and women who served with me, I’ve lost more to suicide than to combat."

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Kolar said 988, a number easy to remember and call, will save lives.

"Help is available for you, and it’s here for you right now," she said.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

After dialing 988 and hitting 1, the lifeline will connect veterans, service members and those concerned about them to the crisis line specifically catered to veterans. 

"I’ll probably put it in our locations as a flyer. This is a resource," said Winstead.

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Winstead said Dryhootch will soon roll out an app called "Battle Peer" which will connect veterans with a fellow veteran mentor. The more options for veterans, he said, the better.

"It’s unique, it’s different, it’s something if I’m in crisis I can utilize it," he said. "I think it’s an important thing to keep all these tools available."

The Veteran Crisis Line had been established, but 988 is a new, hopefully easier, way to get connected. It is open to all veterans and those who may be concerned about them.