Suicide hotline for veterans still needs urgent fixes

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A new report by the Department of Veterans Affairs indicates there are still major issues with the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL).

The report states that more than a quarter of calls to the VCL are being directed to backup centers. This is much more than the Veterans Affairs Department’s initial goal of 10%.

Additionally, the report said the VCL is not fully implementing any of the original recommendations made in February 2016.

“Veterans are at a disproportionately high risk for suicide compared to the rate of U.S. civilian adults,” Michael Missal, the Veterans Affairs inspector general said in a statement. “The VCL is a critical effort to reduce veteran suicide for those who call in in crisis. Therefore, it is imperative that [the] VA takes further steps to increase the effectiveness of VCL operations.”

Since its creation in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has taken in more than 500,000 calls annually, according to The Hill. A 2016 inspector general report found that if too many calls came in at once, calls were sent to a backup line that often went to voicemail.

After harsh criticism from lawmakers following this discovery, the VA agreed to make changes by Sep. 30, which included collecting data on calls made to the hotline and documenting training for crisis hotline employees.

The report released on Monday said none of the recommendations had been implemented as of Dec. 15, 2016.

Several issues the report noted were that calls were still rolling over to voicemail, with some veterans waiting 30 minutes or longer to talk to someone. Also, the hotline does not have any way of collecting or reviewing data on how many veterans attempt or commit suicide after calling.

“This crisis line is a lifeline for many veterans, and I am disappointed by the lack of action taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs to consider the recommendations for improving the shortcomings of the Veterans Crisis Line that were previously identified by the inspector general more than a year ago, in February 2016,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said in a statement. “The Veterans Crisis Line should be collaborating with clinical services every step of the way. I urge [VA] Secretary [David] Shulkin to act without further delay to remedy this issue.”

Representative Tim Walz, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was also extremely dissatisfied with the report.

“Let me be clear, the ongoing issues with the Veterans Crisis Line identified in today’s VA Office of Inspector General report are completely unacceptable,” Walz said in a statement. “Secretary Shulkin needs to take immediate action to address this situation. When veterans seek mental health care, they should have immediate access. They deserve nothing less, and upholding our responsibility to them means fixing this problem now.”

According to The Hill, the VA agrees with all of the recommendations in the recent report. The full report can be viewed here.

H/T: The Hill 

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