New Investigation Of Veterans Affairs Suicide Crisis Hotline

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Crisis Hotline

Benjamin KrauseDepartment of Veterans Affairs is now investigating problems with is suicide crisis hotline that left many veterans stranded during high-volume call periods.

RELATED: VA Call Centers Block Majority Of Veterans’ Calls

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter to Secretary Bob McDonald asking for data on the crisis line call volume, hold times, and average wait times. Long wait times of up to 10 minutes during periods of suicidal ideation was at the root of the call to investigate.

How is it that VA calls centers continue to struggle? I have been reading story after story for years about these problems and wonder how competent phone center etiquette works at crisis centers.

Military Times gave a typical example:

According to the report, Koran’s wife died of cancer last year and he was despondent the day he made the call.

But when he dialed, he was placed on hold numerous times. After he reached a counselor, he said he did not feel comforted, according to the report.

“They had me on the [verge] of saying to hell with it,” he said, according to WFTS.

Canandaigua, New York, is the proud home of the defunct suicide hotline. When calls are too high, they get referred to other VA-trained call centers across the country. The Canandaigua facility can handle 1,000 calls per day but receives around 1,400. The excess calls are then dispersed to 5 other VA contractor facilities across the country.

Seems to me the math here is straightforward. Still, somehow corporations are able to manage their call volumes for basic customer service.

Shouldn’t VA better allocate funding in a similar manner to fund its call centers?

Source: http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/benefits/veterans/2015/05/02/veterans-affairs-suicide-hotline-investigation/26649465/

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Doesn’t surprise me at all, having dealt constantly with long waits when just trying to contact VA facilities both in Tucson and Birmingham…sometimes as long as 10 minutes just to get an operator on then another 4-8 minutes waiting for a department to answer…Next they’ll be routing us to call centers in Pakistan or India…

  2. At no point do I want to discourage a fellow veteran in dire need of an intervention but from PRIVACY issue standpoint,
    is the information CONFIDENTIAL, NOT RECORDED SURREPTITIOUSLY and used to defeat any pending claims.

  3. Ben, you asked, “Shouldn’t VA better allocate funding in a similar manner to fund its call centers?”

    Yes, but again you highlight the “VA Rub”…just ***WHY*** does the VA have to use an OUTSIDE CONTRACTOR for something so sensitive and of dire importance as a Suicide Hotline? With the VA supposedly ONLY able to handle up to 1000 calls a day, but on average regularly receives 1400 calls a day(according to this report) at a time when we have at least a dozen Vet suicides a DAY, again just shows how the VA goes HALF-AS*ed on their end, THEN YET AGAIN, uses YET ANOTHER OUTSIDE CONTRACTOR (sub-contractor?) to handle the seemingly constant *overflow* of direly important calls, of which should NEVER EVER be PLACED ON **HOLD**…EVER!!!??

    The VA seems to be more proficient at spending TONS OF $$$ on many CONTRACTORS, when do you not think this of all things is something the VA should be DOING THEMSELF.

    Does anyone wonder of that daily Veteran Suicide rate could possibly be cut in half or better yet, ELIMINATED, if the VA were as efficient at helping distressed Veterans as the VA is efficient at SPENDING TONS OF $$$ outsourcing and assigning contractors to DO THEIR WORK *FOR THEM*????!?

    Will the “VA fix for this” be the VA now procuring YET ANOTHER contractor to handle overflow of calls that’s located in say India, Philippines, where they have a limited “script” and now a language barrier of anything outside that ‘script’ will be just as UN-helpful?
    I am being somewhat facetious but I for one am SO tired of hearing of how the VA seems to use “Contractors” for JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING! Is it ANY wonder with the VA using outside contractors for SO MANY things, that the VA ***still*** cannot even process claims in a much timely manner?
    This is why I think the VA absolutely requires to be audited yearly but I imagine that would be a daunting task given just how many OUTSIDE THE VA CONTRACTORS are used to DO THE VA’s JOB!!!! I am just growing VERY TIRED of hearing how the VA relegates SO MANY of their duties and responsibilities, never mind PROMISES made to Veterans and the VA using the LAME A** EXCUSE of passing on the blame of any said problem to THEIR “Contractor”!!!
    How about the VA doing their OWN job for once?
    Nothing spells incompetence and HUGE FAIL like a Veteran in DIRE NEED to call the VA Suicide Hotline to only be asked, “Can you please hold…CLICK!!?” Does the VA even realize how much it took in first place for ANY given Vet to get past their own pride and even real fear of repercussions to their claim by the VA, to make that call in first place?
    This is an atrocity and huge let-down to our fellow Vets and their survivors. This tells me that the VA has been directly or indirectly accountable for MANY Veteran suicides from their own dangerous negligence by “passing the buck” to a contractor?

    Is this done by the VA to lessen their liability so they can just blame the contractor and do as the VA *always does* and just ask for MORE $$ to be thrown at it without really fully addressing their systemic problem that’s called incompetence for once!

    Having lost -3- fellow Veterans and best friends to suicide in last 5 years, this REALLY enrages me of this HUGE FAIL.

  4. I had a question last week on VA benefits. The DAV guy I called guessed at what the answer might be. I tried calling the VARO in Denver, and was told the wait time to reach a human was 34 minutes, and if I wanted to use their automated callback system, I could leave my name and number. This is typical when calling Denver, and has been going on for over 3 years. I tried the eBenefits site, found nothing useful so I tried their online chat. That was useless since the person said she could only handle logon issues. Eventually I found a number advertised for VSOs and got through to a human right away…after trying to call for hours. I cannot imagine the despair of calling a VA suicide hotline and being put on hold or hung up on. The VA is a friggin disaster.

  5. Between deployments, just before another deployment for Gulf War 1, while in the Reserves I worked as a Crisis Counselor at Charter Hospital of Sacramento along with about 8 other counselors. Just as with the VA today, no one except me really cared about their job but cared more about doing the minimum. The Corporation was looking for potential patients with good insurance for in-patient admission so it was all financially driven. A teenage girl had killed herself on the unit in her own room before I was hired so I did my best to make sure it did not happen again. Sure enough though, a patient of mine, 31 year old Paul Paradis, killed himself on the unit too. I assessed him in writing and verbally to all staff including the Chief Medical Officer Harry Silsby, as needing to be on “1 on 1” constant suicide watch but the hospital getting $2,000 a day from his insurance needed the staffing resources for something more important, like screwing around instead of actually watching the patient. The VA wants vets to kill themselves, so is it any wonder that they don’t answer the phone? I believe that a suicidal veteran would be better off dialing a random number and talking to whoever answers the phone than what they will get at the VA.

  6. Medical businesses are now using out of state call centers. I question the certification of any one answering theses phones considering the info I gave is vastly different than what the doctor receives. This creates far too great a confusion resulting in delays in medical needs. It is all about cheap labor. Sub contractors guarantee cheaper labor but not competence. At one time, answering the phones in the actual clinic, one had to have certification or a license but not anymore. Anyone can answer a phone but what is their experience on the calls they receive. AND I don’t believe our medical info is confidential anymore since the Patriot Act., that it is all being collected & reviewed to see if we’re really ill or hurt. Our medical plans, which are really insurance companies surveil (at least 50 cents on the dollar goes for SUB ROSA) it all for many reasons and none of it is for our good. It’s either to discredit or to delay. What I do now, is make the bold request to speak to someone in his office. The out of state call center employee try & get any info such as birth date or a name but I refuse and just say I’m a patient. I don’t know how it works for the vets but as long as there are call centers outside of what VA facility you are close to, you just don’t know what you are getting or to whom to you are speaking to. I guess, I would ask any of those on the phone what are their credentials. I bet they don’t have much or any. The DOD/VA is like any other business, it’s about saving money. ASK the next call center you talk to, as to where they are & what qualifications they have in your needs. Most call centers will have an automatic hangup after so the allotted time set up by the sub contractor and if an employee just doesn’t feel like doing their job that day, they’ll hang up on you. The more calls they show, the better for the subcontractor regardless of the time spent on the calls because it shows that the intake on calls are high justifying the need for the subcontractors to keep their contract to continue their business with the employer..Any employee who answers a call should ID themselves and where they are at. AND too, the call center management encourages incompetent calls as the call center contractor saves money for the DOD/VA. because again, meting out care, cost money. I saw this all of the time at Kaiser. WE WERE told to answer a call in 3 minutes but actually it was less than 90 secs, regardless of the medical necessity of the patient. & then the content of the message was geared for the hospital employer, not the patient, saving liability in terms of what the actual info the patient gave out vs what medical needs were meted out. Now it happens all over the country. It becomes what a patients states VS what the call center employee wrote down. The subcontractor has all the stats as to the time when came in and the phone number that called in & how long the call lasted.
    ALL calls should be recorded but supposedly in the medical field they are not but those who receive the info are told how to type up a message to the doc as well which are vastly different. Because these calls ARE on a computer too, there are records in the computer system and the call center contractor is in charge of the main computer disc, the master disc. This gives the ability to change the data.
    While computers help to a point, it is a double edged sword, it can retain info but that info can also be altered , omitted ( a few words here & there as to the severity of the need) or erased by those that are in charge of the master disc.
    i don’t know why each VA center closest to the vet does not have their own certified or licensed employees answering it’s own calls other than to save money, all to not give access to real medical care to our vets.
    I hope this helps.

  7. There are supervisors that will listen in on these calls. We can thank kaiser’s very expresident-ceo of kaiser for implementing the tech services and with the VA. As he stated in his bio, that doctors are the biggest labor costs, well that would go for anyone else who would have to be trained, licensed, or certified AND as Nambibor writes, no one should be put on hold in the suicide phone call line. BUT, yet again, it’s all about costs, sick or injured costs the DOD/VA. That should be a punishable crime.
    It’s criminal too that it costs trillions to go to wars but not enough put aside to take care of our vets when they come home. AND it all should be audited. Taxpayer money is like a freebie to those who are contractors. as ell as for the DOD/VA BUT, ultimately the DOD/VA are responsible & should be held accountable in every way.

  8. There are good caring devoted people at ALL V.A. hospitals and there are a few (Well more than a few) that Treat it as a TeleMarketing job. Dead Veterans don`t call back.
    I had a friend that moved back in with with his Mother after Vietnam. One night he drank a Fifth of Vodka and stuck a .45 in his mouth. She heard the Report, Ran in to see this. His Eye Balls laying on his face. That Pissed me off at him for doing that basically in front of his mother. I thought what a cowardly thing to do. He “Meant” to show her (That) But Why? Who knows. She died shortly after. Now 45 yrs later I feel guilty that He did`nt call (me) To talk to someone that even Acts like they give a damn “Could” make all the difference. I described this “Horrible sight” in my reply hoping that someone that reads it, That knows someone is in trouble. TRY to do what ever you can to prevent this story from being repeated over 25 times a day. Veterans that gave all they had. I “Knew” something was`nt right 45 yrs ago. he left “hints” but, I (Thought) he`d be ok. He was`nt. now neither am I, Because I did nothing.

  9. I tried that crisis line once I spent quite a while filling it out . They never did reply but I guess it’s okay I’m still alive . The crisis line is useless , so much like so much of the VA Hospital is . I am not sure what mental health in the VA is attempting to do. Look around the VA’s is apparently saying, without help, us vets will be ok. I am not ok, and in the last ten years, I haven’t had a psychiatrist willing to talk to me about my two diagnosed conditions, even though the National Center for PTSD diagnosed them. I know I’m slipping, but there is no help.

    • VA SECUIDE HOTLINE IS RUN BY 500 PHONE JOCKEYS THAT ARE UNDER AFGE UNION CONTRACTS VETS YO ARE SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO SCREWED BY VA DEATHCARE FROM AFGE UNION HELL ………………..

  10. im looking into getting an attorney about this hotline stuff. i called in and they got me an appt to see a doctor who works with addiction patients and this guy tells me, and addict who is in suicide mode, that he needs me to quite doing dope before they willl see me. or get me into the program i need. how is it this guy does not know an addict will not stop outside of a secure facility away from dope? a doctor no less? how did this joker get in there? the moment he saw my dirty clothes and ungroomed appearance he had a look if disregard and distaste. and when i found out this addict was high – what a shock for him! – the aie of dismissal was so thick i was glad to leave. whats up with the va doctors involved with addiction? they have gotten worse than they were 10 years ago.

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