More than one-third of calls made to the suicide hotline for troubled veterans are not being answered. Instead, Veterans Affairs had them go to voicemail, according to the former programs director.
The calls were also being sent to backup call centers, where untrained staff took calls from our troubled veterans looking for guidance out of a dark time in their lives.
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Calls to the hotline had a recent spike over previous years, but reports showed VA employees took less than five calls a day. Instead, many employees would, “spend very little time on the phone or engaged in assigned productive activity,” or go home early according to internal emails from the former director of the Veterans Crisis Line, Greg Hughes.
The VA inspector general reported in February that a startling one in six calls went to voicemail or were sent to backup centers. One backup center was reportedly unaware that there was a voicemail system implemented. In the month of May alone, 40 percent of calls were being rolled over according to Hughes, who left the agency in June.
Once the report was released, the House of Representatives sprung into action and has since passed a bill that mandates the VA Crisis Line staff to do their job properly. The bill is known as the, “No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act.” In further detail, the bill requires qualified employees to answer any calls that come through the hotline in a timely manner.
Iowa Republican Representative, David Young, recently sponsored the bill stating, “A veteran in need cannot wait for help, and any incident where a veteran has trouble with the Veterans Crisis Line is simply unacceptable.”
— David Young (@RepDavidYoung) September 26, 2016
The VA responded after the public scrutiny and legislative action by vowing to hire more staff members at its New York office. They also vowed to open a new call center located in Atlanta, Georgia.
In a comprehensive study released in July by the VA, an estimated 20 veterans commit suicide every day. VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin noted that many are not receiving VA care in their last years.
In 2015 the agency said it would “aggressively” implement new measures to cut down on suicide. Shulkin said, “We are saving thousands of lives. But we will not rest as long as there are veterans who remain at risk.”