Lifeline for American Soldiers Is Made in Israel

Suicide Call Center Starts With Simplest Question

Fatigue in Fatigues: Long deployments contribute to difficult reentry for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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Fatigue in Fatigues: Long deployments contribute to difficult reentry for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

By Jared T. Miller

Published March 04, 2014, issue of March 07, 2014.

In her work with Israeli military veterans and victims of trauma, Sigal Haimov asks a lot of sensitive questions.

But over a lengthy career as a mental health professional, she’s found that it’s one of the easiest questions to ask that’s trickiest for Americans to answer genuinely: “How are you doing?”

“You” — that is, Americans — “ask each other ‘How are you doing?’ whenever you see someone you don’t even know,” said Haimov, director of the telephone-based help line at NATAL, an Israeli trauma center.

On the other hand, “When [Israelis] ask you how you’re doing, we expect you to answer — and not just say, ‘Fine, thank you.’”

There’s a lot to be learned from the Israeli response — one of many reasons the Wounded Warrior Project reached out to Haimov and her organization a year and a half ago, to establish a telephone help line for American veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts. The Wounded Warrior Project’s mission is to “honor and empower” veterans, and it does so through its 19 different programs, including physical therapy, peer mentoring and job skills and placement assistance — and now, over the phone with a help line.

Haimov is a major force in setting up the service — named WWP Talk — based on her experience setting up and running NATAL’s own help line for the past 16 years. Instead of serving solely as a crisis intervention line, where caller-to-counselor relationships usually end when the phone is hung up, the NATAL method focuses instead on strengthening that initial relationship, and providing assistance beyond suicide prevention. Over the past year, she has traveled back and forth from Israel to Jacksonville, Fla., helping to train the WWP Talk’s first few cohorts of volunteers.

“We don’t do anything at the Wounded Warrior Project that we can’t be the best at,” says Dave Ward, who oversees WWP Talk as well as other mental health services at the organization. “NATAL are the experts, specifically with this help line model.”



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