New 988 mental health hotline extension aims to help veterans

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – With the new three-digit 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, mental health resources are more accessible than ever before. By simply dialing the extension “1,” calls will be directed to a professional counselor who works specifically with veterans.

“There’s a lot going on in the world, and then we also have veterans who are still dealing with situations that they encountered from their military service,” said Sonya Smith, the cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Veteran Services. “Some veterans are very comfortable talking about things right away, and then you have some veterans, that it takes a little bit longer.”

“The idea that this is designed specifically for our veterans is a great thing,” she added.

The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs shows a sharp decrease in veteran suicide deaths between 2017 and 2019. 

In New Mexico, Smith said 68 veterans took their own lives in 2019. While that number is lower compared to previous years, she said both local and national leaders will not stop working until it is zero.

“That’s too many, obviously,” Smith said. “So we want to come up with some interventions and some strategies on how we can lower that number, but more importantly, prevent suicides.”

The new 988 lifeline is a big part of that goal, to make mental health resources more accessible whenever those who have fought for our country may need them.

“Regardless if it is when they separate, or while they are currently in service, or even 20 or 30 years later,” Smith said. “The promises that were made to keep them healthy, we have to honor those, and that means that we have to make the commitment to be available when they need us because they were there for us when we need them.”