Over one-third of calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ crisis line in May rolled over to back-up call centers, according to emails from the hotline’s former director.
Greg Hughes, who directed the Veterans Crisis Line until leaving his position in June, said in emails reported by the Associated Press that between 35 and 40 percent of calls from troubled veterans to the hotline in May were not answered by primary staffers and instead roll over to back-up call centers, where they are answered by workers who do not have the same level of training to handle veterans in crisis.
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The VA’s goal is to answer 90 percent of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line within 30 seconds, after which they roll over to the back-up call centers.
Hughes reportedly complained in emails that crisis line staffers take less than five calls daily and leave work early despite the count of calls to the hotline increasing.
The Veterans Crisis Line has previously been flagged for failing the nation’s veterans and their families. A report from the VA inspector general released earlier this year found that at least 23 veterans, service members, or their family members who phoned the hotline during the 2014 fiscal year were sent to voicemail and never called back.
A Government Accountability Office report published in May found that roughly 73 percent of calls reviewed from July and August of last year were answered within 30 seconds. The audit also revealed that nearly 30 percent of text messages that the GAO sent to the crisis line went unanswered.
The VA has been widely scrutinized for mismanagement and shortcomings in veterans health care after staffers were found keeping secret lists to hide veterans’ long waits for care in 2014, sparking national outcry.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have pursued legislation to reform the agency. On Monday, the House is due to vote on a bill that would require the agency to ensure that all calls and text messages to the crisis hotline are answered by qualified personnel in a timely manner.
The legislation, called the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act, was introduced by Rep. David Young (R., Ia.) and has 26 cosponsors and bipartisan support.