Calls to VA Suicide Hotline Went to Voicemail

A Note From OOV: In 2010 I worked briefly as an intake clerk (GS-3) in the Psychiatric Services Department at the Indianapolis VA hospital as a way of “giving back” for the care I had received from the VA over the last 30+ years. This was a step down from my prior civil service pay grade as a GS-12, but this wasn’t about the $$$, it was about helping other vets.

I clearly remember one of my first assignments was having to transcribe messages from a voicemail account sent to the department’s “rollover line” that had gone unanswered for over a week. One series of calls from one veteran was particularly unnerving. He called at least once each day for almost a week begging for someone to call him back. Each time he was threatening to harm himself. Eventually he stopped calling. I never knew what became of this veteran and whether he had carried out his threats of suicide.

These unanswered calls were NOT after-hours calls but were calls that went to voicemail because no one was available to take them during normal business hours.

I reported the problem to the department head and suggested that instead of forwarding calls to voicemail they should instead be rerouted to the switchboard or give an option to “press one” for a live human being.

My suggestion fell on deaf ears.

I jokingly tell people I left the VA after coming to the conclusion that the staff in Psychiatric Services were crazier than the people we were supposed to be helping. The truth of the matter was that there was a level of incompetence in the management of this department that made my working there untenable.

I eventually went to work at Camp Atterbury helping to train troops bound for Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo in close quarters battle and IED route clearance.

FOX NEWS — A suicide hotline operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs allowed crisis calls to go into voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance, according to a report by the agency’s internal watchdog.

The report by the VA’s office of inspector general says calls to the suicide hotline have increased dramatically in recent years, as veterans increasingly seek services following prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the aging of Vietnam-era veterans.

The crisis hotline — the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary — received more than 450,000 calls in 2014, a 40 percent increase over the previous year.

About 1 in 6 calls are redirected to backup centers when the crisis line is overloaded, the report said. Calls went to voicemail at some backup centers, including least one where staffers apparently were unaware there was a voicemail system, the report said.

Hotline callers “made numerous complaints of long wait times for responders, being put ‘on hold’ or calls ‘not being put through’ to a responder,” the report said.

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