September 27, 2016
By Lorra B.
The Veterans Suicide Hotline, opened in 2007, has been plagued with issues and been in the headlines for the past few years. Poor staff working habits, long wait times, busy signals and troubled veterans being put on hold being just a few of the problems.
The former director of the VA’s Veteran Crisis Line, Greg Hughes, stated that less than five calls a day are being taken by many of the hotline workers and that they leave before their shifts are even over.
In an internal email, Hughes stated that some of the staffers actually “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.”
Perhaps saying ‘No’ to requests to leave early had never occurred to the director.
Hughes resigned on June 17. He stated, “If we continue to roll over calls because we have staff that are not making an honest effort, then we are failing at our mission.”
This has been an issue for a very long time. The VA’s office of inspector general stated that approximately 1 out of every 6 calls from veterans are rolling over to other crisis centers who do not have as much training when dealing with issues of suicide. Calls would then roll over to voicemail.
Many of the hot-line staffers had no idea there was even a voicemail system. How is this possible?
This is unacceptable by any standards.
To ensure that the VA crisis line answers all calls, text messages and other communications in a timely manner, on Monday a bill was unanimously approved by the House requiring just that.
“A veteran in need cannot wait for help, and any incident where a veteran has trouble with the Veterans Crisis Line is simply unacceptable,” stated the bill’s backer, Rep. David Young, R-Iowa.
According to AP, “The VA said Monday it is increasing staff at the New York-based hotline and opening a new hub in Atlanta.” AP went on to report, “The agency also pledged to continue efforts to improve training, as it responds to a report by an internal watchdog that said crisis calls are routinely allowed to go into voicemail and callers do not always receive immediate assistance.”
Last year alone over 500,000 calls to the crisis line were received, “50 times the number it received in 2007, the hotline’s first year of operation.”
Between 20 and 22 veterans decide to take their own lives every day. They are hurting and reaching out to a system that isn’t currently working.
With determination and hard work this system can be fixed.
It is in your hands now, Senate Representatives. The bill is waiting your approval.
The toll-free hotline number is 800-273-8255
By Lorra B.