The former head of the VA's suicide hotline said that more than one-third of the VA suicide hotline's calls roll over to undertrained staff at backup centers because workers want to "leave early."Greg Hughes, former director of the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, said that poor work habits and other problems at the VA are to blame for the roll overs.Some hotline workers handle fewer than five calls each day, and leave before their shifts are scheduled to end, he said. Crisis calls have increased sharply in recent years, and the shift toward leaving early is bad news for veterans looking for help when they are in a suicidal state of mind.He said that some of the crisis line staffers “spend very little time on the phone or engaged in assigned productive activity.” Coverage at the Veterans Crisis Line also suffers because “we have staff who routinely request to leave early.”
Suicide Hotline Under Fire From Congress
Around 35 to 40 percent of all crisis center calls received in May of this year rolled over to back-up centers where veterans were referred to under-trained workers.The House on Monday unanimously approved a bill which would require the VA to answer all telephone calls, text messages and other communications received at the Veterans Crisis Line in a prompt and timely manner by a qualified worker.Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, who is the bill’s sponsor, said 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.”He was prompted to craft the bill after a veteran in his district told him that he repeatedly received a busy signal after calling the crisis line in the spring.In some cases, when calls go to backup centers, they eventually go to to voicemail, according to a VA inspector general report. At least one backup center was unaware that it even had voicemail capability.The crisis hotline received more than 500,000 calls last year, which is 50 times as many as it received in 2007, when it went into effect.