By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expanding its efforts to prevent veterans from taking their own life, which has become epidemic. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the initiative.

Statistics show vets kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. Because of this, the VA expanded a program so veterans can reach out for help, without speaking a word.

An American soldier dies in combat every day and a half, on average. Back home, veterans take their lives at drastically higher rates.

“I had a cousin who was a Vietnam Vet. He committed suicide after being in all sorts of trauma after coming home. It got to the point where he couldn’t handle it anymore,” said Brad Beasley, who is now trying to make a difference by helping expand on a program the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs started five years ago, a crisis hotline.

Those struggling could call 24-7, and talk with a counselor. But talking on the phone is a barrier for many.

“We found that most people these days prefer to text rather than talk,” said Beasley. His company developed a way for veterans to text for support, and the VA embraced the idea.

“The way the program works is exactly like sending a text message to a friend or family member,” said Beasley.

Larry Stokes heads a suicide prevention program for the VA. He says it’s important to provide veterans information, any way possible.

“Once they get the information. We’re able to bring them in and we’re able to coordinate care. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful thing,” said Stokes.

So far more than 85,000 text messages have been sent to counselors at the crisis center. While there’s no telling how many lives it has saved, the VA says there’s no doubt it has.

The number to text free of charge for support is 83-8255.

Stephanie Stahl