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Report finds VA suicide hotline lets many crisis calls go to voicemail

The Veterans Affairs Inspector General found calls at the main VA suicide hotline center in Canandaigua, New York allowed calls to go to voicemail, and that some are never returned due to inadequate training and an overloaded staff.


The hotline was the subject of the 2014 Academy Award-winning documentary "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1," which profiles several Veterans' Crisis Line counselors who work the 24-hour service to provide support and guidance to active and retired servicemen dealing with emotional, physical and financial troubles.

"We substantiated allegations that some calls routed to backup crisis centers were answered by voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance," said a VA report filed in February 2016.

The VA estimates every sixth call is going to the backup center, where callers listen to Muzak while they wait for an operator. The VA has no information on how long the callers wait or how many give up because the backup centers are not monitored by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Since the suicide hotline was created in 2007, it has received more than two million calls and intervened on 53,000 separate occasions. The new report recommends obtaining and analyzing data on hold times, implementing call monitoring for the crisis line staff, more rigorous training with a rigorous quality assurance process.