Calls to VA Suicide Line Went to Voicemail
In-crisis veterans put on hold, sent to voicemail, with calls never returned: report
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2016 9:42 AM CST
VA officials say they're working on fixes.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – The Oscar-winning film Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 documents the counselors who man the phones for the 24-hour service, but it never mentions the suicidal veterans who are put on hold or sent to voicemail, with calls never returned—a fact made public last week in a report from the Veterans Affairs inspector general, USA Today reports. The investigation also found that contracted counselors at the backup centers that took overflow calls from the Veterans Crisis Line may not have been trained to handle mental health crises, the Military Times notes. "We substantiated allegations that some calls routed to backup crisis centers were answered by voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance," the report stated, adding that about one in every six calls gets sent to one of half a dozen backup centers when the main hotline staff based in Canandaigua, NY, is swamped.

The VA investigation began in 2015 when it started receiving complaints from those who called for help and were put in telephone limbo. In one case, a suicidal Florida vet told a local news station he was put on hold over and over, up to 10 minutes at a time, per the Military Times. Altogether, the report found the backup center had transferred nearly two dozen current service members, veterans, or family members to voicemail. And the reason calls weren't returned? Backup center staff said they didn't know they had a voicemail system. The VA has already started to remedy the issues—including more staff at peak times and upgrading its phone system—and says it will implement other suggested changes by Sept. 30. (Those who wish to use the service can call 800-273-8255 (press 1), text 838255, or go to http://www.veteranscrisisline.net. (Female veterans have an "obscenely high" suicide rate.)
 

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