by Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
6/22/2009 – WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Department of Veterans Affairs took to the road, literally, when it decided to advertise about its “VA Suicide Prevention Lifeline” on public transportation buses in 124 communities across the country. “We continue to look for new, innovative ways to reach our veterans,” said Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs. “VA wants to make sure to exhaust all avenues to reach those in need of our services.” Currently, that includes public service announcements by actor Gary Sinise and TV news personality Deborah Norville. Suicide prevention coordinators also have been passing out information for several months now, Jan Kemp, the VA’s national suicide prevention coordinator, said. “There’s a lot of publicity going on. [The buses are] just one mechanism that we’re using to get the word out,” she said. “We’re kind of saturating the population as best we can.” The current bus campaign began this month and will conclude Sept. 1. It started as a pilot program here and ran for about three months last summer. “The calls in D.C. and the surrounding areas actually doubled toward the end of the campaign there,” Kemp said. “Our theory was that we would test it there and then roll it out to various other places.” While none of the buses rolling through the nation’s capital now bear the VA’s suicide prevention ad, they may again as the campaign continues, Kemp indicated. “I think we will cycle around again, but I think we recognize the fact that sometimes a consistent message doesn’t get seen as being new any more,” she said. The cities currently seeing the ad on their public transportation were carefully selected based on the availability of that transportation and the suicide and attempted suicide rates in the area. VA officials also looked at the current call volume from those cities and whether the ads could make a difference. Available resources also were taken into consideration, Kemp said. The campaign is aimed at veterans, but because it is being advertised in a very public manner, there are bound to be civilians who see the number and call in. And that’s OK, Kemp said.