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VA housed more than 40,000 homeless veterans in 2022

During 2022, the Department of Veterans Affairs permanently housed 40,401 homeless veterans, providing them with the safe, stable homes that they deserve. This exceeded the department’s goal to house 38,000 veterans in 2022 by 6.3%.

Nationally, the total number of veterans experiencing homelessness has decreased by 11% since January 2020. In total, the estimated number of veterans experiencing homelessness in America has declined by 55.3% since 2010.

This success is a result of VA efforts to reach out to every veteran experiencing homelessness, understand their unique needs, and address them. These efforts are grounded in the evidence-based “Housing First” approach, which prioritizes getting a veteran into housing, then provides the veteran with the wraparound support they need to stay housed — including health care, job training, legal and education assistance and more.

“There are thousands of formerly homeless veterans who are going to sleep tonight in good, safe, stable homes – and there’s nothing more important than that,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough via a press release. “This is great progress, but it’s just the beginning: we at VA will not rest until the phrase ‘homeless veteran’ is a thing of the past.”

Ending veteran homelessness is a top priority of VA and the Biden-Harris Administration. Earlier this year, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, which set forth President Biden’s ambitious goal to reduce all homelessness by 25% by 2025. As a part of that effort, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which closely partners with VA in the fight to end homelessness, announced today that through HUD and USICH’s House America initiative, communities have housed over 100,000 households since September 2021.  

Throughout 2022, VA staff helped veterans find permanent housing such as apartments or houses that veterans could rent or own, often with a subsidy to help make the housing affordable. VA staff also helped some veterans end their homelessness by reuniting them with family and friends.

VA also continues to focus on combating veteran homelessness in the Greater Los Angeles area. During 2022, VA provided 1,301 permanent housing placements to formerly homeless veterans in LA, the most of any city in America.

If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is experiencing homelessness or at risk for homelessness, call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). Visit the VA Homeless Programs website to learn about housing initiatives and other programs for veterans exiting homelessness.

Hazing and bullying take mental toll on deployed soldiers, study finds

Combat-deployed soldiers who were bullied or hazed were more likely to have thoughts of suicide or suffer from other mental health conditions, according to a new study.

The survey of more than 1,400 soldiers, published Tuesday in JAMA Psychiatry, found that one in eight soldiers reported being bullied or hazed during their deployments.

Study authors said that despite previous studies on civilian workplaces that showed an association between bullying and harassment and mental disorders, few studies had examined the same among military personnel. Moreover, bullying and hazing, unlike other stressful combat experiences, can be minimized by commanders and noncommissioned officers.

"Unit cohesion appears to mitigate the effects of deployment stressors; however, this buffer may be compromised for soldiers who are targets of malicious behavior perpetrated by fellow unit members," the study said.

The report analyzed data from previous Army studies to assess risk and resilience in service members. It also included a computerized survey administered at three Army bases and a web/telephone survey to assess the effects of bullying and hazing, while controlling for factors such as preexisting mental health conditions. There were 1463 participants, 90% of them male.

They were asked in a survey if they had been bullied or hazed during deployment in a combat theater, while other factors, including "high combat exposure" and lifetime exposure to sexual assault, life-threatening injuries, and death of a loved one, were also tallied.

"Respondents who reported bullying or hazing during deployment were younger, disproportionately female, more likely to have reported previous PTSD and suicidal ideation ... and more likely to have reported several other deployment and non-deployment stressors," the study found.

After researchers adjusted for socioeconomic, clinical and other risk factors, "reports of bullying or hazing during deployment remained significantly associated" with later depression, aggressive outbursts, thoughts of suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, the study said.

"Although causality cannot be assumed, these results raise the possibility that U.S. Army policies and programs that aim to eradicate bullying and hazing may help reduce mental disorders and suicidality among soldiers," the study said.

U.S. pulls trigger on sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine

The United States will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine to help troops in the embattled country beat back invading Russian forces, the White House announced Wednesday.

The move follows more than a week of international pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration from allies and speculation about sending battle tanks to Ukraine.

“It’s very much a continuation of our efforts to provide Ukraine with the capability that they need to continue to better defend themselves,” a senior administration official told reporters.

U.S. officials did not specify which variant of the Abrams — the M1A1 or the M1A2 — would be sent to Ukraine, but they said the tanks will be procured through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative rather than the presidential drawdown authority. Providing weapons and equipment through funding from the initiative is a longer process, and the tanks will be procured from the defense industry and not taken from Defense Department stocks. The officials said it would be several months before Ukraine receives the tanks. The officials also said training Ukrainian troops on the Abrams is part of the deal, and it will take place at an undisclosed location somewhere outside Ukraine.

Along with the announcement of Abrams tanks, the U.S. will send Ukraine eight tactical recovery vehicles, support vehicles, and equipment and funding for “training, maintenance and sustainment,” the Pentagon said.

“It will enhance Ukraine's capacity to defend its territory and achieve strategic objectives," Biden said in his announcement at the White House. "The Abrams tanks are the most capable tanks in the world."

"This is about freedom — freedom for Ukraine, freedom everywhere,” he added. “It's about the kind of world we want to live in, the world we want to leave to our children."

Biden and the Pentagon have been asked repeatedly in recent days about Ukraine’s requests for tanks such as the M1 Abrams and the German-made Leopard 2. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his armed forces need the stronger, more maneuverable tanks to fight off Russian forces across the country.

Earlier Wednesday, German officials agreed to send dozens of its Leopard tanks to Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told members of parliament in Berlin that it took some time to confirm that sending the tanks now is the right move. He also indicated it was important to send them “in close cooperation” with the United States sending the Abrams tanks.

It was reported last week that German officials said they wouldn’t send the Leopards unless the U.S. agreed to send the Abrams. The Pentagon has said there’s no “linkage” between the two contributions, but U.S. officials stressed Wednesday that a great deal of strategy concerning the evolving war is done in concert with allies.

“Keeping unity inside the alliance with our partners has also been really important,” said a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “So, coupled with the near-term commitment the Germans have made on Leopards, we think that the contribution by us with the Abrams represents the long-term commitment.”

Pentagon officials had argued in recent weeks that the Abrams was not suitable for Ukrainian battlefields for multiple reasons. Chief among them, they said, is the complexity of operating and maintaining the tanks. But senior administration officials said Wednesday that the conditions of the war in Ukraine are constantly changing.

“Given what we expect will be the kind of fighting that will occur in weeks and months ahead … this is very much in keeping with a constant conversation that we have had with allies and partners as well as, of course, Ukraine,” one of the officials said. “We have said all along that the capabilities we are going to provide are going to evolve with the needs of the war, and I think that’s what you’re seeing here.”

The Abrams first entered service in 1980. The first model, the M1, was produced in the late 1970s and the second edition, the M1A1, began production in 1985. The most recent variant, the M1A2, has been in service since 1992 and is the version that has the most sophisticated features.

The M1A2, for example, is equipped with an independent thermal sight and can fire at two different targets virtually at the same time, without having to lock on sequentially. It also has an automatic firefighting system in the crew compartment and can actively deflect computerized in-bound missiles. Some of the later variants have a Tank Urban Survival Kit, which is a series of refinements that allow the tank to perform better in urban warfighting environments.

Pentagon officials have said another aspect of the M1 Abrams that affected the debate to send the tank to Ukraine is its need for maintenance and spare parts in the battlefield, at a time when the world continues to deal with supply chain challenges, due partly to Russia’s war.

“It is the most capable tank in the world, but it’s also the most sophisticated,” a senior administration official said of the M1 Abrams. “And there are supply chain issues that have to be dealt with, certainly. Training and maintenance issues that have to be dealt with. And that’s why we’re doing it through USAI, so we can take the time — not too much — but take enough time to make sure that when they get into the field the Ukrainians use them and maintain them and keep them in the fight offensively on their own.”

The Abrams carries a crew of four people is shielded with composite armor, and its main armaments are 105 mm or 120 mm shells, along with a .50 caliber machine gun. Its maximum speed is between 42 and 45 mph on roads and 25 to 30 mph off roads. The Army is the only U.S. operator of the M1 Abrams, though the Marine Corps also used the tank at one time.

The senior administration officials declined to reveal too much about the specifications of the Abrams tanks that the U.S. will procure and send to Ukraine, such as whether they will use depleted uranium shells or be protected with depleted uranium armor. Depleted uranium shells can penetrate heavy armor and depleted uranium armor offers maximum protection for the tanks.

The Abrams tank also is powered by a multi-fuel engine that most often runs on jet fuel.

The agreements by the U.S. and Germany to send the heavy-duty battle tanks come after other countries recently stepped up their weapons and equipment contributions. Britain already has agreed to send some of its Challenger tanks to Ukraine, and France has committed some of its lighter tanks. Zelenskyy has said heavy-duty tanks would be instrumental in driving back Russian forces across the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine where Moscow has been seeking to expand its footprint for nearly a year.

Development for the M1 Abrams, which is named after Gen. Creighton Abrams, former Army chief of staff and the top commander during the latter part of the Vietnam War — began in the 1970s when the Army began looking for a replacement for the aging M60 Patton tank. The M1A1 was used in Kuwait and Iraq during the first Gulf War in the 1990s, and the M1A2 was used in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s. For a time in the 2010s, there were reports that the Army was looking to develop an M1A3, but there has been no Pentagon confirmation on that possible variant and no further reports on development.

Officially, the Army is exploring a replacement for the Abrams with the Next Generation Combat Vehicle — a program that is also eyeing replacements for the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M113 armored personnel carrier, both of which also have been pledged by the U.S. to Ukraine.

The Biden administration’s pledge to send Abrams tanks signals the latest round of military equipment the U.S. is sending to Ukraine. The Pentagon announced a $2.5 billion military aid package last week that includes other heavy-duty vehicles such as Bradleys and Stryker armored personnel carriers.

Since the Russian war began last February, the U.S. have contributed total weapons and equipment nearing $30 billion. Congress has also approved supplemental foreign funding to help Ukrainian forces defend its country.

Legion lays out priorities for a new Congress

As Legionnaires prepare for Washington Conference Feb. 26 – March 1, the nation’s largest organization of veterans has assembled its legislative priorities for 2023.

Among them:

-        Destigmatizing mental health services, and improving access to those services, to advance the Legion’s “Be the One” initiative to reduce and prevent veteran suicide

-        Ensuring that VA is effectively resourced to deliver “the best care anywhere” for veterans in a hybrid system that includes tele-health and community services, as well as traditional treatment

-        Leveling the playing field for National Guard and Reserve veterans whose GI Bill eligibility is now restricted

-        Easing the transition for Afghan allies of the U.S. Armed Forces who have come to the United States, and helping those who were left behind

-        Protecting U.S. Coast Guard personnel from losing pay in the event of government shutdowns

-        Changing U.S. Flag Code to permit common patriotic practices at major events and amending the Constitution to return to the states the ability to protect the flag from deliberate desecration

The American Legion’s legislative priorities for the first session of the 118th Congress are condensed into a trifold brochure that can be downloaded or printed.

American Legion National Commander Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola will present the Legion’s priorities in a joint session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs on March 1. That testimony will be streamed live on the committees’ websites.

 

Six veterans join HVAC

Six new members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee are veterans, including three former Navy SEALs.

Their appointments were announced Jan. 25. They are:

• Eli Crane, R-Ariz., served as a Navy SEAL for 14 years. • Scott Franklin, R-Fla., retired as a commander after spending 26 years in the Navy, 14 on active duty and 12 in the Naval Reserve. 

• Jen Kiggins, R-Va., was a Navy helicopter pilot for 10 years. • Morgan Luttrell, R-Texas, who was a Navy SEAL and is the twin brother of Marcus Luttrell.

• Keith Self, R-Texas, is a retired Army Ranger and a member of American Legion Post 10 in McKinney, Texas.  

• Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., is a retired Navy SEAL and a member of American Legion Post 68 in Prairie du Chien, Wis.

The committee is charged with recommending legislation that expands, curtails or adjusts existing laws relating to veterans' benefits. 

The ranking member of the committee is Mike Bost, a Marine Corps veteran.

Georgia Riders chapter provides big financial support for other nonprofits while raising profile in community

From 2021 to 2022, the American Legion Riders at Chapter 3 in Macon, Ga., staged four big rides – two a year – to assist a police survivors organization, a disabled veteran in need and veterans wanting to take part in Middle Georgia Honor Flight.

The four rides raised a combined $115,000 for the respective causes. But more than that, it let those in the Macon community know that the Riders are there to assist.

“Before the pandemic we started (increasing fundraising efforts),” said Chapter 3 Director David Gales, a member of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 3. “And right in the middle of what we were doing the pandemic hit. And everything went kaput.

“But we kept going. We want to get the people to know that we’re there for them, trying to help them. A lot of people don’t know you can join The American Legion at any time.”

The past two years, motorcyclists from all over the state have come to Macon to take part in Chapter 3’s ride to benefits Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), a nonprofit that provides resources to assist the families and co-workers of police officers killed in the line of duty. The 2021 ride resulted in a $25,000 donation to C.O.P.S., while last year’s saw that number grow to $45,000.

Also in 2021, members of Chapter 3 learned that a local disabled veteran who trains service dogs for fellow veterans needed major repairs to the van he used to drive for work. The Riders again banded together, this time staging a benefit ride that netted $15,000 to handle the cost of all of the van’s repairs.

And last fall, the chapter’s benefit for the Middle Georgia Honor Flight – which flies veterans from Georgia to Washington, D.C., to tour the various memorials there – resulted in back-to-back $15,000 donations to the local Honor Flight.

“The Honor Flight people said they usually get donations of $1,000, at the most $4,000 or $5,000,” Gales said. “And then we give them a check for $15,000. There’s astonishment in their face when they get the check. And $15,000 fills that plane with veterans, and then we turn around and give them another $15,000 check right after that, it’s just something they don’t realize is going to happen. The look and expression on their face is everything.

"And when you see these (veterans) come back from these Honor Flights at the airport – they don’t expect a big crowd – but when they get off the plane and see everybody cheering and shaking their hands and welcoming them back, that’s worth everything.”

Gales said the reasons Chapter 3 has been able to raise the amount of money it has is from “a lot of work. And sponsors. We sell tickets for door prizes and we have auctions. But you can’t just sit back. You still need to ask (for support) again.”

Gales credits immediate past ALR 3 Director Doug McCallum with helping recharge the chapter. “(McCallum) is the type you want to help. You want to be in with him,” he said. He and Chester Stewart – he’s a member of the Riders – those two are basically the face of the rides we’ve put on.”

Besides its fundraising efforts, Chapter 3 also performs flag retirement ceremonies, sponsors a clean-up and landscaping of the entire Post 3 property, and sponsored the cleaning and potential overhaul of the monumental field gun sitting outside Post 3.

“We have a group of 20 American Legion Riders that has gone over and above to raise money for the community,” Gales said. “Their dedication to this post and veterans knows no bounds.”

Maine department commander surprised with big OCW donation for special project

When he was elected commander of the American Legion Department of Maine last summer, Kirk Thurston made fundraising for Operation Reboot Outdoors (ORO) his Commander’s Project. The nonprofit is comprised of veterans and registered Maine guides and provides recreational healing to active-duty military, veterans and law enforcement through outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing.

Thurston didn’t set a dollar amount as a goal, rather stressing that “any little bit would help” ORO’s mission. But Thurston’s project got an unexpected boost during the department’s Mid-Winter conference in January, when the commander was presented with a $43,000 check from The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program.

The grant was a surprise, arranged behind the scenes by Maine Alternate National Executive Committeeman Matt Jabaut and members of the department headquarters staff. Thurston was stunned when he was presented with the check.

“I’m not one to be speechless normally. It blew me away,” Thurston said. “I couldn’t say anything. The emotions took over. “It was great that (Jabaut) and whoever else was involved thought outside the box. We always forget about National’s programs like Operation Comfort Warriors, which is a great, great program.”

Jabaut said he and the others involved in obtaining the grant wanted to do something to allow Thurston’s effort to assist ORO to last beyond his year as department commander.

“A lot of commander’s projects are a one-year thing, kind of like a do it and forget it. It doesn’t have a long-term impact,” Jabaut said. “So the biggest question for me was how we could make his Commander’s Project have a longer impact from a Legion and help standpoint. And then it was, ‘What opportunities do we have within the organization to do that?’ And we were talking and remembered (OCW).”

Thurston said he learned about ORO from a fellow member of American Legion Post 24 in Rumford and then got to know the nonprofit’s founder, Dan Waite, and Waite’s wife Nicole, who serves as its board of director’s president. Thurston found out that his parents had been friends with Nicole’s grandparents, and that her father had gone to the same school as Thurston.

“But what got me was their love for what they are doing,” Thurston said. “There’s no paid employees. They’re all volunteers, and a lot of volunteers are people that they have – I don’t way to say ‘saved,’ but they helped them refocus and find their true north. And as I travel across the state, I’ve found more and more people have been touched (by ORO). It’s heartwarming to watch them operate.”

Unbeknownst to Thurston, Jabaut reached out to the Waites to get a “wish list” of items their nonprofit could use. A grant application with the items was submitted to National Headquarters and approved for the entire amount requested. The grant will allow ORO to purchase a self-enclosed trailer to transport supplies to events, a utility trailer to haul four wheelers or backhaul a harvested moose), and a container to safely store ice fishing traps tents and hunting gear.

“I don’t think any of us were expecting that much to be approved,” Jabaut said. “It was amazing and really impactful for (ORO), and (Thurston) can walk away after his year as department commander and feel good about really making a longer-term difference with (ORO) and in a lot of veterans’ lives.”

Sons, submit your Snapshots and Videos of Service

Submissions are still being sought for the Sons of The American Legion’s Snapshots of Service and Videos of Service programs. The best entries will receive national awards.

Entry forms for both programs can be found at Legion.org/Sons/Publications.

Snapshots of Service

Photos submitted to the Snapshots of Service program must represent one of the Four Pillars: Americanism, Children and Youth, National Security, or Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation.

Any SAL squadron may make up to three submissions for each of the Four Pillars. Each submission must be sent in JPG format and accompanied by the proper forms.

Videos of Service

The new SAL Videos of Service program is open to all SAL members. Video submissions must contain an SAL member or members wearing SAL covers or SAL-branded clothing participating in an activity or event that falls under one of three categories: program support; community engagement; or membership and recruitment.

The video must be no longer than five minutes in length and have been posted on social media. Entries will be judged by the SAL Public and Media Communications Commission on quality, content and branding.

Entries for both the Snapshots of Service and Videos of Service should be submitted by email at sons.public.media+video@gmail.com.

Legionnaire leading effort to combat extremism in military, veteran communities

After serving in the U.S. Navy from 2001 to 2006, Zack Baddorf went onto a career that included positions within the Departments of State and Defense, as well as serving as a national security and foreign policy practitioner in locations such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Central African Republic.

A member of American Legion Post 20 in Washington, D.C., Baddorf also went on to co-found Military Veterans in Journalism (MVJ), a non-partisan nonprofit whose mission is to get more veterans working in the media industry. And through his role as MVJ’s executive director, he’s now turned his focus toward extremism in the military and veteran communities.

 “Fighting Disinformation in Military & Veteran Communities” is a partnership between MVJ and other entities that Baddorf hopes will deliver “a very targeted effort at providing non-partisan, deep reporting on these extremist groups that will provide the veteran community with nuanced reporting that sheds a light on these extremist groups, and hopefully works to prevent more veterans and active-duty military from being exploited. And we recognize that the threat comes from a range of extremist actors in the United States.”

It was Baddorf’s experience on the international stage that led him to start his most recent endeavor. “I have a professional background of working on countering disinformation,” he said. “I did it for a nonprofit working to counter ISIS and al-Shabaab propaganda. We interviewed former extremists … and we learned about the incredible power of propaganda and of media and convincing people to join these groups, and to lend their support and pick up arms and to put themselves at very severe risk because of what they were sold on videos … on different forms on the Web. We know that this media is incredibly powerful and is used to exploit vulnerable and susceptible populations.”

Baddorf said when he began to learn about members of the military and the veteran community being targeted by extremist groups in the United States, he felt he needed to do something.

“I wanted to take some of the experiences that I had and create an opportunity to challenge it, to counter the disinformation that was being sent out into the world. These groups want to exploit veterans. They want to take that patriotism, that trust that Americans have in active-duty military and veterans, and they want to use it for their own political means. So I basically started asking around, trying to find out what was being done, and building a coalition to counter their efforts.”

Baddorf was able to secure grants through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and partnered with Military Times to build a reporting team that will independently conduct investigative reporting on anti-democratic extremist groups that are targeting veterans and active-duty service members with disinformation. MVJ also is teaming with Military.com, Task & Purpose and The Associated Press to bring national coverage to the issue, as well as subject-matter experts such as PolitiFact and the Poynter.

Baddorf said that extremist groups target veterans and those still serving “to normalize themselves and to give themselves a sense of legitimacy that they should not have. They’re using the trust that America has in our military and veteran communities, and they’re exploiting it. They know veterans are respected as leaders, they’re respected as people in our communities, and they’re also respected as messengers for information. The veteran’s voice is a force multiplier.

“Not only are they going after them for that credibility, but they’re also going after them for the technical skills they bring, whether that being marksmanship, operational planning, bomb-making skills. And they also know that veterans broadly speaking, are good leaders, too. They know that they can count on them to create a camaraderie, and bring in and bolster their extremist units.”

Baddorf wants to be clear that those veterans and servicemembers who have taken up with extremist groups are in the minority. “It’s a tough balance, because there are 18-some million veterans across the United States, and the vast, vast, vast majority of them are not extremists,” he said. “They’re not out there committing violent acts that are antithetical to our nation’s democracy and republic. They’re not out there stirring up trouble and looking to overthrow our government. The vast, vast, vast majority of American veterans and active-duty members are patriotic people who are serving their communities. I think we need to keep that in mind.

“But we also need to be clear-sighted about the threat and about how the military and veteran community is being targeted by these extremist groups. We need to respond to that threat and bolster our community. Give them the skills and information that they need to be more resilient when these bad actors come after them.”

A welcome expansion

I have said repeatedly that in spite of our Be the One outreach efforts, most Legionnaires are not professional therapists. I view our role as connectors. We are friends and confidants of any veteran experiencing crisis and we are committed to helping veterans obtain whatever treatment and therapy they may need.

The American Legion applauds the groundbreaking announcement made by the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this month. As of Jan. 17, veterans in suicidal crisis can go to any VA or non-VA health-care facility free of charge.  Eligible veterans include those discharged or released from active duty after more than 24 months under conditions other than dishonorable.  Also included are members of the reserves who served more than 100 days under a combat exclusion or in support of a contingency operations. Victims of military sexual trauma or harassment incurred during their service time are also eligible. Significantly, veterans need not be enrolled in the VA system to receive this benefit.

In announcing this benefit, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said, “Veterans in suicidal crisis can now receive the free, world-class emergency health care they deserve – no matter where they need it, when they need it, or whether they’re enrolled in VA care. This expansion of care will save veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that.”

The American Legion share his view that nothing is more important than saving the lives of the people who have defended our nation. It is why Be the One is The American Legion’s top priority.

Under the new benefit, VA will provide, pay for or reimburse treatment and transportation costs for up to 30 days of inpatient or 90 days of outpatient care. VA will also determine eligibility for other benefits and include referrals for follow-up treatments following the period of emergency suicide care.

Many incidents and issues contribute to a veteran experiencing a crises. Access and affordability of treatment should not be among them.

Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola

National Commander

If you are veteran who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the 988 national crisis line.

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