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VA claims suicide hotline fixes made, 1 day after OIG report released

Investigation: 'Staff did not respond adequately to a veteran's urgent needs'

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One day after the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General released a report detailing dangerous problems it found with VA's Veterans Crisis Hotline, the VA claims it has made fixes.

The OIG report released yesterday, comes after an investigation from June 6, 2016 through Dec. 15, 2016 following a claim that Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) staff did not respond adequately to a veteran's urgent needs. That claim was determined by OIG to be true.

The report outlines that during its investigation, deficiencies were found in the process of managing incoming phone calls -- which included the number of calls still being rolled over to backup call centers -- as well as issues with governance and oversight of VCL operations.

"We found some backup call centers used a queuing process that may lead callers to perceive they were on hold, and that VCL leadership had not established expectations or targets for queued call times, or thresholds for taking action on queue times," the OIG report stated. "VCL policies were not consistent with existing VHA (Veterans Health Administration) policies for veteran safety or risk management and did not incorporate techniques for evaluating available data to improve quality, safety, or value for veterans."

According to the report, staff members were also allowed to coordinate emergency rescue responses independently after the end of a 2-week training period, without supervision and regardless of performance or final evaluation. (You can read the full OIG report here.)

This afternoon, The Department of Veterans Affairs released a statement saying it has made fixes to the Crisis Line since that investigation took place.

The statement reads, "The Department of Veterans Affairs is proud to announce that the challenges with the Veterans Crisis Line have been resolved. Prior to the opening of our new Atlanta call center, our call rollover rate often exceeded 30 percent. Our current call rollover rate is less than 1 percent, with over 99 percent of all calls being answered by the VCL."

“Suicide prevention is one of our highest priorities,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin. “Fixing the Veterans Crisis Line was a critical step in keeping our commitment to Veterans.”

To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, call (800) 273-8255 and press 1. You can also chat online or send a text message to 838255 and a VCL responder will text you back.