Right Hooks

'Your Call Is (Not) Very Important to Us...'

Veterans can't even get through to the VA's suicide hotline.

Nate Jackson · Sep. 28, 2016

Veteran suicide is a significant problem — something we’ve previously lamented. Some 20 military vets commit suicide every day. And as Wesley Smith observes, “World Suicide Prevention Week recently came and went invisibly — again. Society these days seems more emotionally investing in facilitating suicides of the ill and disabled than preventing theirs and those of other despairing people.” While that’s not as true when it comes to helping veterans, many vets are still not getting the help they need.

David Shulkin, undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, calls veteran suicide a public health crisis and a top priority for the VA. But the VA’s suicide hotline is leaving more than a third of all calls unanswered. CBS reports, “Some hotline workers handle fewer than five calls per day and leave before their shifts end, even as crisis calls have increased sharply in recent years, said Greg Hughes, the former director of the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line.” Furthermore, “a February report by the VA’s office of inspector general indicat[ed] that about 1 in 6 calls are redirected to backup centers when the crisis line is overloaded. Calls went to voicemail at some backup centers, including at least one center where staffers apparently were unaware there was a voicemail system.”

The House passed a bill Monday requiring the VA to handle these calls appropriately, but a bill probably isn’t going to fix bureaucracy that’s bloated and uncaring.

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