“My whole life since Vietnam has been by serendipity,” says Jeff Rogers, a crisis line volunteer at Lines for Life. “Volunteering came about that way, too.” Jeff came to Lines for Life a year ago. He heard about us through his 13-year role counseling Veterans struggling with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Helping Veterans and civilians in a more crisis-oriented way had an appeal, he said. “You’re trying to get them through the day, through the night, and hooked up with resources.”
During the Vietnam war, Jeff served on the Navy hospital ship USS Repose. Afterward, he worked as a lawyer for 30 years before becoming a licensed professional counselor. Both his personal and professional experience are a recipe for understanding the struggles Veterans, military service members, and their families are facing daily and often behind closed doors.
PTSD is the number one challenge identified by those who call our military crisis lines. But callers get help about all kinds of concerns including employment, relationships, finances, housing, substance abuse, thoughts of suicide, and anger. Callers get free, confidential, and anonymous support, but for Jeff, “It’s about talking with a peer and understanding there will be no judgment and no rubric for how we have a conversation. Our goal is to listen.” The result is compassionate support where people can get connected to the listening ear, resources, or treatment they need to feel whole again.
Breaking Through the Stigma
When the challenges add up, Veterans struggle to bypass their disciplined self-reliance to ask for help or to take it once offered. “When you’re in war, you can’t really be asking for help. You don’t reach out for help,” Jeff observes. “What happens during a call can be quite similar with a Veteran or non-veteran, but the Veterans start out often with a certain degree of hesitancy or suspicion or feeling not understood. You have to start with the assumption that they had to overcome a lot of internal barriers to make the call.”
To help callers move past that hesitancy or suspicion, Jeff focuses on establishing a connection with each person who reaches out for help. When helping someone find a healthy way out of their problems, Jeff knows that “making the connection is by far the key. It can diminish loneliness in a remarkable way in a relatively short conversation. And it’s the one common thing I try to accomplish in every call, even if someone is just calling for resources. If you do that, everything else falls into place.”
How a connection is made varies from call to call; there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. “You have to understand the person,” Jeff says. “As a Veteran, I think I can more quickly establish a connection with other Veterans. Even over the phone, it’s really remarkable. Once they learn I’m a Veteran and can identify with what they’re talking about, there’s no sense of judgement. The connection is deep.”
Helping Others Find a Way Forward
Over 95% of people who call Lines for Life find a way to work through their problems without the intervention of emergency services. Jeff says the best outcomes happen when a good connection is made. “There are a lot of times when I go home and say, ‘Wow! That was amazing.’ In just a relatively short period of time, the caller and I were able to make the connection. And to that person, the connection meant there’s a value in still being alive.”
Jeff loves being a crisis line volunteer, and over the course of a year, he’ll answer around 200 calls from people in crisis. All told, in 2016, staff and volunteers answered over 73,000 calls for help. And for each call, they answer the phone with the same attitude as Jeff: “I’m glad you called. I get that you’re hurting and that it’s real. I want to help.”
Supporting Our Veterans
Oregon Veterans make up approximately 8% of the population, but account for 27% of suicides in Oregon. In 2016, Lines for Life took over 30,000 calls for help from Veterans, military service members, and their families who were in crisis. Join the effort to keep our military crisis lines open and to enhance our ability to provide peer-to-peer support for those who have served our country: www.linesforlife.org/vets