One-third of calls to the VA Suicide Hotline go unanswered

One-third of calls to the VA Suicide Hotline go unanswered
One-third of calls to the VA Suicide Hotline go unanswered

In February of this year, the VA Inspector General report found that some veterans who were in desperate need of help called the VA Suicide Hotline only to find that their calls went to voicemail or never received immediate action.

A new news report from Katie Pavlich of Town Hall, found that PBS reported that up to a third of all veteran calls to the suicide hotline go unanswered due to VA employees leaving early.

An internal email from Greg Hughes, the former director of the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, stated that some workers handle fewer than five calls per day and leave before their shifts end, even as crisis calls have increased sharply in recent years.

Hughes also stated, “Some crisis line staffers spend very little time on the phone or engaged in assigned productive activity. Coverage at the crisis line suffers because we have staff who routinely request to leave early.”

In the February report, the IG stated that on May 8, 2014, a complainant contacted the OIG hotline concerning the responsiveness and quality of the care provided by the VCL.

Specifically the complainant alleged that:

  • Calls to the VCL were directed to voicemail and/or went unanswered.
  • Staff at the VCL did not provide immediate assistance to veterans calling the VCL and, at times, told veterans to contact a local VHA facility.
  • Local resources, specifically an ambulance called to assist a veteran, did not arrive for 3 hours.
  • Staff who answered calls to the VCL were not properly trained to meet the needs of callers or to marshal the resources needed to meet crises.
  • Veterans who needed to call the VCL during a crisis could have difficulty locating the corresponding numbers to dial when utilizing the VCL telephone number displayed on business cards and other communication—273-TALK.

The VA numbers of how many veterans commit suicide stands at about 20 suicides per day. Researchers found that the risk of suicide for veterans is 21 percent higher when compared to civilian adults. From 2001 to 2014, as the civilian suicide rate rose about 23.3 percent, the rate of suicide among veterans jumped more than 32 percent.

As a result, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to outline what improvements it has made to a suicide hotline after a watchdog found that crisis calls were going to voicemail, according to The Hill.

“Troubling to us are recent reports showing that the Veterans Crisis Line has not served as the beacon of hope it was intended to be,” the lawmakers wrote to VA Secretary Robert McDonald in a letter released Wednesday.

The letter was sent by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Joining them were Reps. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee; Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), sponsors of a Senate bill to fix the hotline; and Rep. David Young (R-Iowa), sponsor of a House-passed bill to fix the hotline.

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