The Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide hotline still sends nearly one-third of its calls to outside back-up centers. Unfortunately, two of these four backup centers place callers into a queue without re-routing them to another center, so some veterans must wait for thirty minutes or longer to speak to someone. Some are even sent to voicemail; in 2014 alone, at least twenty calls went to voicemail at one backup center. On a suicide hotline, every second is precious.
The VA opened a new call center and hired staff to answer the hotline, but as of November 2016, over 14,000 calls were still being sent to the backup centers. Additionally, not everyone at the backup centers has been appropriately trained to answer the calls and provide resources like the staffers at the VA call center.
Furthermore, the VA does not keep track of how many veterans attempt or commit suicide after using the hotline, so there is no way to monitor how effective the hotline is. And there is no automated caller ID to track the numbers of veterans who call the hotline. To follow up with callers, staff must manually enter the callers’ numbers, which increases the likelihood of errors in dialing. Lastly, there is no way to record calls that are made to the hotline.
The hotline has answered more than 2.5 million calls and dispatched emergency services over 66,000 times since it launched.
John Daigh, assistant inspector general for health care pledged to consider all prior recommendations to improve the hotline.