Service Restored to National 988 Suicide Hotline; Military and Veterans, Press 1

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VA Services Showcase in Arlington, Va.
Veterans and Veteran organizations learn about the services available from the VA at the VA Services Showcase in Arlington, Va., Jan 29, 2014. (Department of Veterans Affairs photo)

Service was restored late Thursday to the national suicide and mental health hotline following an outage that affected its phone services for several hours.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides counseling and emergency response to people experiencing a mental health emergency. Those trying to reach the line via phone on Thursday were greeted with a message saying the line is "experiencing a service outage," although the line's 988 text message function and website chat remained operable.

Around midnight Thursday, Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, tweeted that the issue, which stemmed from a problem at the firm contracted to provide the service, "had been addressed."

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The problem affected not only the Lifeline, but the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Disaster Distress Helpline and the Department of Veterans Affairs Crisis Line, which connects military personnel and former service members to the VA by pressing 1 after dialing 988.

After learning of the outage, the VA immediately provided alternative numbers through social media channels. During a press conference Thursday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the outage and said veterans needing immediate help could call alternate numbers or reach the Crisis Line by texting 838255 or accessing the Crisis Line via its website.

Lovenheim said with the restoration late Thursday, the VA's 988, Press 1 function was back in service.

The cause of the outage has yet to be determined. Lovenheim said the Department of Health and Human Services is conducting an investigation.

"While HHS and VA immediately acted to provide support to 988 callers via text, chat, and alternate numbers, the disruption of phone service was unacceptable," Lovenheim said in a tweeted statement.

The three-digit 988 number for mental health crisis response was adopted in July after years of lobbying by advocates and medical providers, who hoped the abbreviated phone number would make it easier for people to remember and access the service.

The 988 initiative was signed into law in 2020 and developed by HHS, SAMHSA and the VA.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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