Hollywood on Sunday awarded an Oscar to "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1," a short-subject documentary about the Veterans Crises Line, the New York-based hotline established by Congress in 2007 in response to the growing numbers of veteran suicides.
The 40-minute film looks at the men and women who answer the phones when veterans reach out in the critical minutes that they are trying to decide if they want to live.
Film director Ellen Goosenberg Kent dedicated the Academy Award to "the ... people at the crisis line and everywhere who care for veterans as if their own lives depended on it."
As Kent and film producer Dana Perry accepted their Oscars for the documentary the camera briefly panned to actor Bradley Cooper, whose movie, "American Sniper," was nominated for six Oscars but picked up only one, for sound editing.
"American Sniper" was a film biopic of the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and based on his memoire of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kyle was shot and killed in February 2013 by a Marine veteran with mental health issues who he had been trying to help out.
After leaving the military Kyle, became widely known for volunteering to help other veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Veterans Affairs Department estimates that 22 veterans die by suicide, on average, each day.
Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which with other veterans groups championed the 2007 legislation that created the hotline that was the subject of the winning documentary, praised both films for their examination of the mental health problems plaguing veterans.
"IAVA salutes the [both movies] for their Oscar wins," Rieckhoff said. "After more than 13 years at war, it is great to see veterans' mental health issues so visible during the Academy Awards."
The Veterans Crisis Line was established as part of the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act in 2007. Since then it has answered more than 1.6 million calls from veterans or a family member or friend concerned about a veteran. The hotline has made more than 45,000 rescues, according to its website.
Four years ago the crisis line added an anonymous online chat service and has engaged in nearly 208,000 chats. It further expanded its communications in November when it established a text-messaging service. Since then it has responded to more than 32,000 texts.
The hotline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Dana Perry, who also picked up an Oscar as the film's producer, dedicated the work to her son, Evan, who died by suicide at 15 in 2005.
"We should talk about suicide out loud. This is for him," she said, even as her words were being drowned out by music. Host Neil Patrick Harris has also received criticism for telling a joke about Perry's dress immediately after her speech.
In an interview with reporters after the presentation, Perry said suicide must be talked about "out loud to try to work against the stigma and silence around [it] because the best prevention for suicide is awareness and discussion and not trying sweep it under the rug."
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org