The Crusader Newspaper Group

Pandemic increases need for mental health awareness among veterans

By Dr. Colleen Kagan and Stephanie Handcock, Jesse Brown VA Staffers:

Guest panelists from the Jesse Brown Veteran Affairs Medical Center visited with Americas Heroes Group radio show host Cliff Kelley on May 9 to discuss Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness Month. Suicide Prevention Coordinator Stephanie Handcock, psychologist and Local Recovery Coordinator Dr. Colleen Kagan and Public Affairs Officer Chanda Johnson shared their insight into this public health issue with Kelley’s listeners.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the perfect time to learn about resources and connect with mental health services they explained.

Panelists noted that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, JBVA continues to provide excellent mental health care. The safety and wellbeing of veterans is the facility’s number one priority. JBVA offers multiple programs for patients to connect virtually with providers, such as online secure messaging, VA video connect, and telehealth appointments.

The mental health professionals expressed their understanding that due to the state-wide stay-at-home order some veterans may be experiencing new or increased domestic violence. The professionals say if you are in a situation where you do not feel safe and need help, you can reach out to any of these services: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-877-863-6338, or the Jesse Brown VA Intimate Partner Violence Assitance Program at 312-569-8603.

Explaining further the mental health professionals commented, “We should remember to be gentle with ourselves during these unprecedented times. Now is a great time to connect with a buddy, revisit old hobbies and explore new interests. Be aware of warning signs of suicide including feelings of hopelessness, increased depression, feeling like a burden to others, and talking about suicide. They caution those experiencing any of the symptoms to “remember, talking to someone about getting help, can save a life! It’s always okay to ask for help; the VA is here to support you as our communities continue to heal.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to be connected to the Veterans Crisis Line. You can also text the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255 or chat online at Each VA facility has a local Suicide Prevention team that will work with the veteran to link them to appropriate resources and support recovery.

Mental health recovery is always possible say mental health professionals. Seeking help takes courage and JBVA is available to provide support along the way.

To hear stories of recovery and get more information about services in your area reach out to JBVA, visit JBVA social media platforms, or

If you are new to VA mental health services, call the Psychiatric Assessment Clinic at 312-569-6269. Enrolled Jesse Brown patients can call mental health providers through the Mental Health Customer Care line at 312-569-7225 to schedule an appointment.

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