Suicide Prevention - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center

 

Suicide Prevention

Be There crisis line
Our Milwaukee VA Suicide Prevention Team is a group of caring psychologists, social workers and therapists who care deeply about helping our Veterans, providing additional layers of support and evidence-based therapy at the medical center, as well as resources in the community.
 

Since 2008, more than 1,100 Veterans have been served by our Suicide Prevention Team. Since 2010, we have responded locally to more than 6,000 Veterans Crisis Lines calls and chats. More than 1,200 referrals have been made to the CUSP suicide prevention group. We recently partnered with many other groups in and around Wisconsin to form the Southeastern Wisconsin Task Force on Veteran Suicide Prevention. Our goal is to offer up-to-date links to a wide array of available resources on the Task Force page as well as the Milwaukee VA suicide prevention page.

 

Please review the questions and answers below about suicide prevention and services we offer.

What is the number for the Veterans Crisis Line for those who are feeling suicidal?
1-800-273-8255, then press 1. You can also chat online at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net, or Text 838-255. The Crisis Line is not just for those feeling suicidal. Any Veteran or family member can call if they are in crisis or worried about a loved one, dealing with substance abuse issues, post-traumatic stress, physical, verbal or mental abuse, homelessness or any number of urgent mental health issues. Our VA experts will get you connected with people who can help.

Why is there a separate line for Veterans?
We know Veterans are at higher risk for suicide than the general population. Male veterans are twice as likely as civilians of either gender to die by suicide. The Veterans Crisis Line is a toll-free, confidential resource that connects Veterans in crisis, their families and their friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders.

How does this number differ from any other suicide prevention phone lines?
The professionals at the Veterans Crisis Line are specially trained and experienced in helping Veterans of all ages and circumstances -- from Veterans coping with mental health issues that were never addressed, to those recent Veterans struggling with relationships or the transition back to civilian life.

“It is not uncommon for a person to be affected by being exposed to war but this does not mean they will become suicidal. It is important to indentify behaviors that may indicate a person is contemplating suicide and directly ask your loved one if they are thinking of harming or killing themselves. The Suicide Prevention Team can provide you with the information you need to help recognize the signs and where you can get help.”



What type of special training do Milwaukee VA Suicide Prevention Team people have?
The Suicide Prevention Team consists of three licensed clinical social workers and one licensed psychologist. They all have special training in mental health, suicide prevention and have a wealth of experience and expertise.

Why should I trust them?
The Milwaukee Suicide Prevention Team cares about each Veteran they work with. They are dedicated and committed to helping Veterans defeat crisis, as well as gain the strength and endurance to cope through emotional distress.

What’s the point of having a suicide prevention team? If someone wants to attempt suicide, why would they call a number or ask for help?
The Suicide Prevention Team understands what it is like to be in emotional crisis and they are available to assist Veterans in distress. Oftentimes, people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts really want to live and we can help them find hope.

Therapy session 
Our Suicide Prevention Team provides an extra layer of resources and support and can set Veterans up with special group therapies to help them recover.


What, specifically, does the suicide prevention team do at the Milwaukee VA?
The Suicide Prevention Program at Milwaukee VA provides follow-up to Veterans and family who have called the National Crisis Line.  We provide individual and group treatment and support to Veterans who are deemed to be at high risk for suicide. We are able to meet with Veterans on an individual basis and through multiple suicide prevention groups.

How is that different from any other mental health services?
The Suicide Prevention Team addresses, specifically, why Veterans become suicidal and assists in developing coping mechanisms to address suicidality.

What if someone is suicidal, but doesn’t qualify for VA care because of a less than honorable discharge?
VA is able to meet with Veterans on a humanitarian basis as an emergency. Otherwise, they may be referred to an outside agency or hospital. It is important to get help when the Veteran needs it, regardless of discharge status.

Be There crisis line


How can you tell if someone is suicidal when they call?
ASK! The best way to determine if someone may be experiencing suicidal thoughts is to ASK them! This gives them the opportunity to talk about how they are feeling in a safe environment.

What is the point of asking someone if they are suicidal? If they are, won’t they just lie and say they aren’t so they can follow through with their plans?
Asking someone about suicide gives them permission to disclose how they are feeling and gives us the opportunity to assist them in getting help. Most people who die by suicide have told someone along the way. It is important for Veterans who may be suicidal to understand they are not alone.

Is it true suicides go up during the holidays? Is there anything I can do at this time to avoid becoming suicidal?

That is actually a myth! Suicide numbers actually tend to go down a bit during the holidays. But that time of year can still be stressful. Some tips to help you cope with stress and depression during the holidays include: 

  • Acknowledge your feelings -- Sometimes the pressure for everything to be perfect during the holidays is difficult to bear. It is important to be aware of how you are feeling and it is OK to ask for help.
  • Set aside differences – Try to accept family and friends as they are, even if they do not meet your expectations.
  • Stick to a budget -- Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
  • Learn to say, “No.” -- Saying, “Yes,” when you should say “No,” can leave feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Don’t abandon healthy habits -- Over the holidays, it is easy to overindulge. It is important to keep eating healthy, get plenty of rest and to exercise daily.
  • Seek professional help if you need it -- If the stress and depression are too difficult to bear of if you become suicidal, please ask for help!
Holding hands for support
If you are struggling, you are not alone. Our Suicide Prevention Team can help you with one-on-one, evidence-based therapy, group therapy and referrals for non-traditional care, such as art and music therapy. We are here to help.

My loved one has changed since coming back from war. How do I know they won’t die by suicide?
It is not uncommon for a person to be affected by being exposed to war but this does not mean they will become suicidal.
It is important to learn how to identify the behaviors that may indicate a person is contemplating suicide and be able to directly ask your loved one if they are thinking of harming or of killing themselves. The Suicide Prevention Team can provide you with the information you need to help you recognize the signs of suicidal thinking, as well as where and how you can get help for your loved one.

“Just because a person attempts to end his or her life doesn't mean they will try again. Since suicidal thoughts are often time-limited, most people who make an attempt will not go onto die by suicide. If the person can get connected with the right care, they may never be suicidal again.”



What should I do if a loved one is threatening suicide?
First and foremost, make sure your loved one is safe! Listen to them carefully and respectfully, remind them there is help available and then make arrangements to get help.
You may want to contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to speak with a VA responder for assistance. You can also take the Veteran to the nearest VA facility emergency room to get help. If the Veteran is not agreeable to this you may need to call the police to assist the vet in getting the help he /she needs.

How do I know if I should take someone seriously who is threatening suicide?
Statements about ending one's life should never be ignored. We here at VA take every conversation about suicide seriously.  It is important to talk with the person about how they are feeling, being direct about the serious nature of suicide, and assisting them in getting professional help to prevent any injury or death.

What are some signs I should look for, if someone is thinking of suicide?
Some of the signs you should be alert to are:

  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out
  • Increased anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness  or mood swings
  • Saying they feel like there is no reason to live
  • Increased rage or anger
  • Engaging in risky activities (such a driving extremely fast)
  • Increased alcohol or drug abuse
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Talking about hurting or killing themselves
  • Looking for ways to kill themselves
  • Talking about death, dying or suicide
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.

If you should notice any of these signs remember to assist the person in getting help by either calling the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or taking them to the nearest emergency room for assistance.





If someone has made a suicide attempt in the past, is there any way to really save them, or will they just try again?
Just because a person attempts to end their life does not mean they will try it again. In fact, since suicidal thouights are often time-limited, most people who make a suicide attempt will not go onto die by suicide. If the person can get connected with the right care, they may never be suicidal again. VA has an extensive Mental Health Department with professional staff and the Suicide Prevention Team can assist in Veteran engagement to help the Veteran and his or her family through a difficult time in their lives.

What care is provided for someone who threatens suicide or attempts suicide?
First and foremost, the person who is feeling suicidal needs a safe and secure environment and then engagement in treatment to help resolve the issues that may have triggered the thoughts of suicide.


The VA Medical Center in Milwaukee has a mental health urgent care center where the Veteran and family can be seen without an appointment, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Milwaukee VA Emergency Department is also open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. VA provides inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment and the Suicide Prevention Team can provide case management services, support groups and education.


Milwaukee VA teams with community to end suicides

Dr. Bert Berger and and Dan ButteryEvery day, 20 Veterans die by suicide. The Milwaukee VA is one of more than 25 community agencies that came together in November 2019 to forge the Southeastern Wisconsin Task Force on Veteran Suicide Prevention. Together, we're committee to ending the tragedy of all deaths by suicide. Learn More.




I’d like to volunteer to answer phones for your suicide hotline. How do I go about doing that?
The Veterans Crisis line has three call centers located in Georgia, Kansas and New York, which are staffed by clinicians who are trained to get people help quickly. However, there are a number of local hotlines in local communities you may be able to contact to volunteer. Should you choose to volunteer for a local crisis line you will most likely need to complete some training in order to be able to answer the phones.

What type of educational outreach do you provide in the community?
The Suicide Prevention Team provides a variety of educational outreach programs, we provide information and materials regarding the Veterans Crisis Line, S.A.V.E. training (Signs of suicidal thinking, Ask questions, Validate the veteran’s experience , Encourage treatment and Expedite getting help).

Can you speak about suicide prevention at my school or community group? How is that arranged?
YES! The Suicide Prevention Team would be glad to speak to any group in the community about how to prevent suicide. All you need to do is call the team at 414-384-2000, ext. 44939, to arrange a presentation.

Do you have any support groups for survivors of suicide or for their loved ones?
The Suicide Prevention Team has several groups that meet throughout the week:
  •         There is the CUSP (Coping, Understanding, Support, Prevention) Group that is a drop-in (no appointment necessary and is ongoing). This group meets twice a week for those who have struggled with suicidal thoughts or behaviors.  
  • The Oasis group is a closed, time-limited group for Veterans with suicidal thoughts or behaviors and PTSD.
  • The CAMS (Collaborative Assessment for the Management of Suicide) group is an evidenced based, time-limited group that helps the Veteran work on coping skills for those who have had or do have suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
  • The VSVAS (Veterans Supporting Veterans after Suicide) Group is targeted for Veterans who have lost someone to suicide.
  • The New Perspectives group is a closed, time-limited group for Veterans with suicidal thoughts related to interpersonal relationships. 
  • The Suicide Prevention Team also has information available about community based Suicide Survivor Groups for survivors and families of those who have died as a result of suicide. 



How does the Veterans Crisis Line refer people to Milwaukee?
The Veterans Crisis Line contacts us by phone and e-mail, so that we can contact the caller and follow-up with any assistance required. Should the situation be emergent, the Veterans Crisis Line will immediately arrange for emergency services for the caller and then contact the Suicide Prevention Team for follow-up.

What if I or a loved one calls the Veterans Crisis Line after regular business hours? Will anyone help me? How will they get word to Milwaukee?
The Veterans Crisis Line answers the phone 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If a Veteran from the Milwaukee area contacts the Veterans Crisis Line, the responder will send an e-mail to all members of the team as well as calling the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the area to alert them of the call. As stated above, if the call is life threatening, the Veterans Crisis Line staff will make arrangements to get help to the Veteran.

What if I live in an area that is too far away from the Milwaukee VA or one of the Community Based Outpatient Clinics?
The Veterans Crisis Line will make arrangements for assistance no matter where you live through local authorities and hospitals. Once a Veteran is stabilized, he or she can then be transported to the nearest VA facility for inpatient treatment if needed. If not, then the VA has the ability to arrange for follow-up services in your local area and the Suicide Prevention Team will follow-up with phone calls as well. 


Meet the Suicide Prevention Team

Sara O'Hara Sara O'Hara has been a Suicide Prevention coordinator at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center since 2018. She is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked closely with Veterans since 2006. In her role as Suicide Prevention coordinator, she is responsible for oversight of the Milwaukee VA Suicide Prevention Program. Duties of the Suicide Prevention team include identifying and monitoring Veterans who are at high risk for suicide, responding to calls from the Veterans Crisis Line, and providing training and consultation to the Milwaukee VA staff as well as training and outreach to members of the community.

Laura Acompanado Laura Acompanado is a licensed clinical social worker and Suicide Prevention coordinator at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. The Suicide Prevention team provides treatment and case management services to Veterans who are deemed to be at high risk for suicide. The team also provides follow up services to Veterans who have called the Veterans Crisis Line. Laura coordinates the team’s outreach efforts and provides education and training to VA Medical Center staff and to community members on topics related to suicide prevention.

Erin Maney Erin Maney is a proud alumna of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she earned her master’s degree in social work. She started her career working with individuals who struggle with severe and persistent mental illness. Erin joined the Milwaukee VA in 2012 as a Suicide Prevention coordinator. She dedicates her time to training VA Medical Center staff and community partners on how to prevent suicide. Erin is passionate about helping every Veteran live his or her best life.

 

Gregory Simons Dr. Gregory Simons is the suicide prevention psychologist and LGBT Coordinator. He completed his doctorate in clinical psychology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and began his VA career on internship at the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center in Johnson City, Tennessee. He came to the Milwaukee VA a year later for a fellowship in palliative care. He then joined the Suicide Prevention team as the clinical lead. Dr. Simons provides therapy and runs support groups for Veterans at increased risk for suicide. He thinks of his job as not just preventing suicide, but helping people to improve their quality of life. For more on LGBT care at the Milwaukee VA click here.

Gwen Narus Gwen Narus has been with the Suicide Prevention Team since 2018. She is a registered nurse who has has worked at the Milwaukee VA since 2010 when she began her career on the inpatient mental health unit. In her role as Suicide Prevention RN, she is responsible for case management of Veterans who are at high risk for suicide and responding to calls from the Veterans Crisis Line. She has many family members who served in the military and is proud to serve our Veterans.