Countless Americans have selflessly answered the call to defend America’s freedom and prosperity by serving in the military. Why can’t the Veterans Crisis Line answer veterans’ calls when they need it the most?
That was the question being investigated by the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) on Tuesday during a full committee oversight hearing to address continued widespread negligence at the VCL.
The hearing was prompted by the March 20 release of a report that found that roughly 30 percent of calls to the suicide hotline at the end of 2016 were rolled over to a backup call center because they were not being answered in time.
“Thirty percent of calls being rolled over at the Veterans Crisis Line is unacceptable – it should be zero percent,” CVA policy director Dan Caldwell said in a statement.
Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael Missal testified during the hearing that “the VA has not successfully followed through on 23 recommendations his office made for the hotline since early 2016.” The recommendations were meant to address ongoing systematic failures, including:
- The VCL’s inability to hire a permanent director;
- Poorly implemented training and unclear staff policies;
- Call centers using a queuing process that may lead veterans to perceive they are on hold; and
- No established expectations or targets for queued call times.
VA officials at the hearing said that the VCL’s two call centers in New York and Georgia, which can take over 2,000 calls per day, have taken 100 percent of their calls on 44 of the 84 days since January 13th. Steve Young, VA deputy undersecretary of operations and management, said the VA is seeking to meet all the recommendations by the end of the year.
Concerned Veterans for American believes veterans should “trust but verify” that the crisis hotline is being fixed. “We trust that Secretary Shulkin has taken the steps to fix the ongoing issues at the hotline, but aggressive congressional oversight is needed to ensure that permanent solutions have taken hold…. Veterans’ lives will continue to be lost if this issue is not resolved,” Caldwell said.
CVA will continue pushing for the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, a strong piece of legislation that will allow Sec. Shulkin to discipline those responsible for the VCL’s failures.