Kirk Calls on VA to Fire Official After Crisis Hotline Sent Calls to Voicemail

Philadelphia VA hospital / AP

Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) called on the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire the official who oversaw its suicide and crisis hotline, after an inspector general report found that calls were being sent to voicemail.

Kirk said the findings in the report were "horrific," and said there have been a number of problems with the VA’s mental health department under its director, Dr. Mary Schohn. The senator called for Schohn’s dismissal in a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald this week.

In a letter to McDonald released Monday, Kirk said Mary Schohn, the director of mental health operations for the VA's Veterans Health Administration, had "failed veterans in their darkest hour."

"You've often stated that you are changing the culture at the VA," he added in the letter. "Use the authority you have to demonstrate that repeated failure at the VA is unacceptable by firing Dr. Schohn." 

The inspector general investigation found that some calls to the hotline were directed to a voicemail system that VA staffers did not know existed and did not check. There were also cases of callers being placed on hold for long periods of time or having their calls dropped.

"The horrific revelations contained in the recently released VA OIG investigative report, "Veterans Crisis Line Caller Response and Quality Assurance Concerns"(Report No. 14-03540-123), include repeated instances of the VA ignoring veterans’ needs for suicide assistance," wrote Kirk in the letter.

Kirk said there have been a number of complaints about the VA’s mental health department under Schohn. His letter linked to a YouTube video that showed a veteran with PTSD who was placed on hold for over 36 minutes when he called the suicide hotline in 2014.