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WASHINGTON–More than 22,000 veterans have sought help from a special suicide hotline in its first year, and 1,221 suicides have been averted, the government says. According to a recent RAND Corp. study, roughly one in five soldiers returning from Ir

WASHINGTON–More than 22,000 veterans have sought help from a special suicide hotline in its first year, and 1,221 suicides have been averted, the government says.

According to a recent RAND Corp. study, roughly one in five soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan displays symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, putting them at a higher risk for suicide. Researchers at Portland State University found that male veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide than men who are not veterans.

The VA teamed up with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to launch the hotline last July after years of criticism that the VA wasn’t doing enough to help wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In April, two veterans groups sued the VA, citing long delays for processing applications and other problems in treatment for veterans at risk for suicide. The department has spent $2.9 million on the hot line thus far.

The hot line receives up to 250 calls per day — double the average number calling when it began. Kemp said callers are divided evenly between veterans from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars. Richard McKeon, public health adviser for SAMHSA, said 10 to 20 of the 1,575 calls received each week have to be rerouted to high-volume backup call centers throughout the country.

The VA estimates that every year 6,500 veterans take their own lives.

AP

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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