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Alabama VA kicks off statewide town halls on veteran suicides in Dothan

The first in a series of the statewide town halls, held by the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, is set for Feb. 16 at the Dothan Opera House.

A PSA for the Dothan town hall.

The Alabama Legislature in 2021 bumped up the budget for the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs to, in part, pay for public service announcements to help spread awareness of veteran suicides and to advertise the national veterans crisis line.

After those spots began airing on radio, TV and the internet, the number of calls from Alabama to the national veterans crisis line doubled, said Kent Davis, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Press 1 for Veterans, 24/7 Phone, chat, and text. Additional services available for the deaf and hard of hearing 800-799-4889. 

Veteran suicides are higher in Alabama than the national average, and as part of the state Department of Veterans Affaris response, the city of Dothan will play host to the first in a series of statewide town halls for the Alabama’s Challenge for Preventing Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families.

The town hall is set for Feb. 16 at 10 a.m. at the Dothan Opera House and is open to veterans, friends and family in the Wiregrass region.

Choosing the Wiregrass region to hold the first town hall on veteran suicides was an important decision, Davis explained to APR. 

More than 9 percent of Alabamians have served our country, but the state has one of the nation’s highest veteran suicide rates. In 2020, 152 Alabama veterans took their own lives, which represented 18 percent of the state’s suicides, accordng to the Alabama Department of Veterens Affairs. 

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“It’s higher in the Wiregrass region. It’s about 25 percent in the Wiregrass region,” Davis said of the percentage of suicides that occur among veterans, as opposed to civilians, living there. “That, combined with the fact that you have a lot of retirees and a lot of active-duty military affiliated with Fort Rucker down in the Wiregrass region. We thought that would be a good place to start.” 

The town halls will consist of a series of presenters there to explain community, state and national level resources. 

The final list is still being completed, but among those to present at the Dothan town hall are Paula Downie, Central Alabama Veterans Healthcare System Suicide Prevention Coordinator, Commissioner Davis, Anna Taylor with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, John Kilpatrick, executive director of the Veteran Recovery Resources. 

Davis said Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba was quick to accept the request that Dothan host the first town hall, which Davis said he hopes will draw attendees from surrounding counties who will “have a good, frank, open discussion and bring awareness to the issue.” 

“The first step in resolving a problem is recognizing you have a problem, and we’ve got a problem,” Davis said of veteran suicides. 

The veteran suicide crisis has drawn the attention of Alabama leaders, and two-and-a-half years ago the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs formed the Office of Outreach and Engagement. Just recently the department hired a full time psychologist with a background in patient care and counseling to serve as veterans well-being program manager, Davis said. 

The first in the series of town halls on veterans suicides are to be held in larger cities, as require by legislation that formed the statewide task force on veteran suicides. Davis said after those town halls, plans call to move them into rural areas, which have their own unique challenges. The goal, he explained, is to ensure people have access to resources when they’re needed, and lives are saved. 

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We’re in this for the long haul,” Davis said.

 The Alabama’s Challenge for Preventing Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Suicide Prevention Resources

STATE

The Crisis Center (Central Alabama)

Main Line: 205-323-7777

Teen Line: 205-328-LINK (54365)

Kids’ Help Line: 205-328-KIDS (5437)

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Senior Talk Line: 205-328-TALK (8255)

24/7 service to serve unmet needs of people experiencing crisis and mental health issues. Service area includes Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby, and Walker counties.

Crisis Services of North Alabama

256-716-1000 or 1-800-691-8426

Free resource for individuals and families in crisis for all races and ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, and ages.

Alabama Crisis System of Care

Located in Mobile, Montgomery, and Huntsville, these centers are individualized to the unique needs of the communities they serve.

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AltaPointe Health

251-450-2211

The Behavioral Health Crisis Center is located in Mobile County and serves Baldwin, Washington, Clark, Conecuh, Escambia, and Monroe Counties.

Montgomery Area Mental Health Authority

334-279-7830

This center is located in Montgomery, serving the entire River Region, and the counties of Chambers, Lee, Russell, and Tallapoosa, in partnership with the community mental health centers of East Alabama and East Central Alabama.

WellStone

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256-705-6444

The WellStone Emergency Services Crisis Center is located in Huntsville, serving Cullman and Madison counties and the surrounding counties of Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Walker, Winston, Lawrence, Limestone, Morgan, Jackson, Marshall, Cherokee, Dekalb, and Etowah.

Veterans Recovery Resources

866-648-7334

Accelerating Veteran well-being by removing the barriers to mental healthcare and providing a unique recovery program for Veterans and their families suffering from substance abuse, post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues.

Still Serving Veterans

866-778-4645

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Offers a variety of services dedicated to helping Veterans and their families locate meaningful employment, access the VA benefits they’ve earned, and get connected to the community resources they need.

Family Counseling Center of Mobile, Inc.

251-431-5111 or 1-800-239-1117

Offers help for individuals and families live more productive lives through counseling, assistance, referrals, and education. Provides 24/7 service through United Way of Southwest Alabama 2-1-1.

NATIONAL

Veterans Crisis Line

1-800-273-TALK (8255) Press 1 for Veterans,

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24/7 Phone, chat, and text

Additional services available for the deaf and hard of hearing 800-799-4889

Vets 4 Warriors 

855-838-8255

24/7 confidential peer support network

Phone, chat, text, email for Veterans, service members, family members, caregivers

Psychological Health Resource Center

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866-966-1020

24/7 phone, chat, email for Service members, veterans, family members, clinicians, commanders, or anyone with a question about psychological health in the military.

Military One Source

1-800-342-9647

24/7 confidential phone and chat for Veterans, service members, and their families

TAPS National Military Survivor Helpline

1-800-959-TAPS (8277)

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24/7 phone and chat for military families and loss survivors

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI

Or in a crisis, text “NAMI” to 741741

Coaching into Care

888-823-7458

National telephone service of the VA that aims to educate, support, and empower family members and friends who are seeking care or services for a Veteran. Services are free of charge and aim to help callers figure out how to motivate the Veteran to seek assistance

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Safe Helpline

877-995-5247

Crisis support service for members of the Department of Defense who have been affected by sexual assault.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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