Film Review: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 by Joanna Gorman

March 13, 2015

Review: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”

 

 

Do you have any weapons inside your house besides yourself because you told me that you yourself

are a weapon?”

 

“Were you injured on active duty?”

 

“Can you agree to not use the knife in your hand? Can you make a safety plan with me?”

 

“You've been sitting with your belt around your neck all day?”

 

“Crisis Hotline:Veterans Press 1” (HBO Documentary Films, 2013) was awarded an Oscar in the “Best

Documentary, Short Subject” category at the 2015 Academy Awards. Clocking in at 41 minutes and

depicting the counselors who man the 24-hour suicide hotline out of Canandaigua, New York, the short

packs quite an emotional punch, especially since the audience is only privy to one side of the calls (the

counselors and not the callers themselves.) Two title cards in the opening minutes of the documentary

report the following statistics: “America's veterans are killing themselves at a rate of 22 per day, nearly

one every hour” and “The Veterans Crisis Line is the front line in the U.S. Department of Veterans

Affairs' battle against suicide.” The hotline is the only one in America to serve veterans in crisis and

receives over 22,000 calls per month. At the close of the documentary, another title card states that by

the end of the filming itself, the call center answered about 900,000 calls.

 

The camera trains itself on the faces of the head-set wearing counselors, quickly typing on keyboards,

speaking with callers, and communicating with supervisors and co-workers in their office space. The

calls roll in but time agonizingly slows down as the counselors quickly assess the callers' situations, if

there are any weapons, family, and/or children in the house with the veteran. The operators, many of

them retired veterans, are well-placed to speak to their fellow brothers and sisters in the military. (Full

disclosure: My husband was a Gulf War veteran, diagnosed with PTSD, and was serving on active duty

with the Navy when he took his own life.)

 

Once a phone call is ended with hopefully the veteran in safe hands, floor supervisors enter the cubicle

of the counselors to check how they are doing. One can see that the calls take their toll but what is the

alternative? It is clear that something more is also needed for the counselors (some veterans

themselves) who tirelessly take phone call after phone call from veterans in crisis. Sadly, the calls do

not end, clearly a representation of a national department ill-equipped to deal with the needs of

veterans.

 

Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has been in the spotlight lately with allegations of

scandalous behavior involving the poor care of veterans, the documentary does not address this

directly, nor does it need to. The filmmakers-Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Heinz Perry-let the

counselors and their phone conversations with the veterans illustrate the need for an overhaul of DAV

programs. The counselors, sometimes speaking directly to the camera and clearly under strain, question

whether or not they could have done more and speak briefly of their own experiences on active duty.

They do their best, day in and day out, pressing on, leaving one to ponder whether the DAV questions

itself on a daily basis, on what they could improve, how they can do more for our veterans. We hope so.

For our veterans' sake.

 

* “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” is currently available on Amazon Prime Instant Video and on

DVD.

 

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