Investigation Questions Work Ethic of VA Suicide Counselors

suicide prevention

By Debbie Gregory.

When it comes to suicide prevention, many of our nation’s veterans are being underserved.

A recent investigative report by USA Today reveled that while the Veterans Crisis Line is receiving calls at record levels, many hotline staffers were only handling one to five calls each day, and leaving work early.

The overflow calls that can’t be taken by the hotline forward to backup centers and are handled by counselors who don’t have access to veterans’ electronic medical records. These counselors are also less experienced in dealing with former service members.

This network of 164 private, nonprofit phone banks also provides 24/7 services for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. A 2015 Inspector General investigation found that some incoming calls from veterans went to voicemail after rolling over to the backup centers.

The poor work habits of the Crisis Line staffers have resulted in 35 percent to 50 percent of calls rolling.

The number of calls received by the VA suicide hotline increased almost 700 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent government audit.

A recent congressional investigative report questioned the call center’s responsiveness to contacts made via mobile text, which found that four out of 14 test text messages did not receive a response from VA staffers. Of the 10 test text messages that received a response, eight were received within two minutes, and two were received within five minutes.

“VA officials stated that text messages are expected to be answered immediately, but, as with online chats, the VA has not yet developed formal performance standards for how quickly responders should answer text messages,” auditors wrote.

VA deputy director Sloan Gibson and other officials said they are currently adding counselors and taking steps to improve quality of care.

“I step back from this, and I look at it and I see a function, an activity, that has been chronically undermanaged for years,” Gibson told USA Today.

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