By Debbie Gregory.
Air Force veteran Ted Koran was in crisis; he was missing his wife, who had died from cancer. Desperately needing someone to talk to, he called the Veterans Crisis Hotline. And then he was placed on hold. Repeatedly. For up to 10 minutes each time, as he fought off suicidal thoughts.
When he finally did speak to a counselor, he said he did not feel comforted. “I had to sit there patiently, in emotional distress, in tears, wanting to give up, desperately needing someone to talk to,” Koran said. “They had me on the [verge] of saying to hell with it.” Since its creation in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has fielded more than 1.6 million calls and is credited with 48,000 rescues, according to VA.
The line, based at a VA center in Canandaigua, New York, receives about 1,400 calls per day, although it can only handle about 1,000. When call volume is too high, the excess gets referred to other VA-trained call centers across the country.
A VA spokeswoman said the calls that the department knows about which were put on hold were calls to civilian crisis lines.
“Reaching civilian crisis lines can happen if callers dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and do not press 1,” the spokeswoman said.
Furthermore, she added, it’s against crisis line standard practice to put callers on hold, unless there is a need to contact a third party, such as emergency services or the police. The crisis line, with an annual budget of $27 million and responder staff of 255, is undergoing a major restructuring, including improvements to phone lines and technology and changes in scheduling, policies and infrastructure, according to VA.
Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican, member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and a veteran of the Army and Marine Corps, said that Veterans seeking help from the Hotline “are isolated and they’re alone and they’re fragile and they’re reaching out….because they’re at the end. And so there’s not anybody there.” He then asked a great question… “How many veterans will lose their lives due to suicide and the time it takes them to unwind this bureaucracy?”
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Military Connection: Veterans in Crisis- Is Anyone There?: By Debbie Gregory