It seems absurd on its face, even villainous, but in true federal government fashion, America’s veterans have been slighted, once again, and in a way that should anger anyone who values the freedom which our military provides us.
As reported by Military Times, at least 23 veterans, their family members or current members of the uniformed services who called the national Veterans Crisis Line in fiscal year 2014 were actually transferred to a voicemail system. And worse, their phone calls were never even returned.
According to the Veterans Affairs Department Inspector General, the VA’s watchdog which looked into the issue last year, the centers responsible for the voicemail errors were contractors who are hired specifically to provide backup and support services when the VA-operated Crisis Line is at its peak. What’s more, the watchdog’s investigators also discovered that those same contractors may not have adequately trained their counselors to answer calls from vets and service members experiencing mental health crisis.
However, since the VA does not train backup center employees or even monitor the centers’ training requirements and programs, then of course the department had no way of knowing that training was not sufficient, an inspector general report noted [PDF].
The crisis line was set up in 2007 in response to a disproportionately higher number of veterans committing suicide, figures that continued to rise even after the hotline was established. Since its inception the hotline has received more than 2 million calls and is credited with saving some 50,000 lives. Last year HBO aired a documentary highlighting the life-and-death reality of VA suicide hotlines that one an Oscar last year.
However, as demand rose for its services, so have the number of phone calls that have had to be routed to backup facilities; the inspector general report notes that the number of calls rose 112 percent from 2013 to 2014.
Military Times reports further:
The VA OIG launched an investigation into the Veterans Crisis Line in early 2015 after receiving complaints from callers that they were placed on hold, didn’t receive immediate help or their calls went to voicemail.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is also seeking a report on the service after a veteran from his state told Tampa TV station WFTS that he was placed on hold repeatedly, for as long as 10 minutes at a time, when he was feeling suicidal.
The VA assistant inspector general for health care inspections, John Daigh, said his office had no evidence to substantiate reports that vets were placed on hold because neither the Veterans Crisis Line staffers or nor the managers for the backup centers keep track of how long calls remained in backup center queues.
“But Daigh did find that some veterans who reached a backup center were transferred to a voicemail system. And according to the VA OIG, staff members at that backup center were unaware they had a voicemail system, and the calls weren’t returned,” the Military Times reported.
What’s worse, according to US Uncut, is that Congress appears poised to cut VA benefits to veterans even further.
During budget talks in October 2015, some Democrats were critical of what they described as a GOP-led effort to cut some $857 million from some veterans benefits, even while boosting overall Pentagon spending by tens of billions of dollars.
“We made a sacred commitment to our veterans when we sent them to war that we would do whatever it takes it take care of them when they returned, this bill does nothing to address that promise,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said on the Senate floor, US Uncut reported. “Disappointingly, this bill takes an ax to needed funding for the VA, underfunding medical care by over $500 million dollars, which is equal to the cost of providing care for more than 60,000 veterans.”
It’s no wonder America’s veterans continue to get the short end of the stick.