VA Suicide Hotline Sends Desperate Veterans Straight to Voicemail

Jim Fausone
Veteran Advocate

With each tragic story of a suicide, the same question is asked: “why didn’t they talk to someone or seek out help?” As a society, we want to believe that there is always someone out there to talk to; always an outstretched hand just waiting for you to take hold. Well, it turns out this notion is not true for our military veterans.

A congressional hearing on VA appropriations uncovered the disgusting and inexcusable management of the VA suicide hotline. Apparently the VA doesn’t think that suicides are time-sensitive emergencies because the VA hotline sends callers straight to voicemail; never to return their calls.

When asked to provide the call center statistics, the VA refused to comply. VA undersecretary Dr. Shulkin also went on record to say that this is not the VA’s fault; telling Congress that it was a contractor’s problem. Of course, the VA refused to identify who this contractor was, nor would they disclose the name of the VA employee in charge of the hotline.

It’s hard to imagine that incoming calls being directed straight to voicemail were anything more than a technological mistake; but we’re talking about the VA after all, nothing is too outlandish.  An inspector general’s investigation into a Veteran Crisis Line (VCL) backup center revealed that the staff did not even know a voicemail system existed, and so no calls were ever returned. Further, nearly 90% of call center operators did not complete their training and over half did not take the post orientation test.

The VA must correct this procedure immediately, another loss of life is inexcusable.

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