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Investigation Finds Veteran Affairs Suicide Hotline Still Has Lots of Problems

The VA suicide hotline is still sending nearly a third of calls to outside back-up centers despite pledges by Veterans Affairs officials to stop the practice last year after a scathing report found the centers had routed veterans to voicemail, an inspector general investigation found.

The VA opened a new call center and hired more staff to answer phones, but as of November, 30% of calls — or 14,600 that month — rolled over to backup centers.

Other concerns identified last year about veteran hold times, training, guidelines and quality assurance also haven’t been fixed, despite VA assurances they would be addressed by the end of September.

“We consider all prior recommendations to remain open as of the publication of this report,” John Daigh, assistant inspector general for health care, wrote in the most recent investigation report issued Monday.

The inspector general also identified new concerns. Investigators found the VA doesn’t keep track of how many veterans attempted or committed suicide after using the hotline so there is no way to tell exactly how effective it is. And when officials learned of suicides, they never reviewed them to see if future intervention procedures could be improved.

VA officials wrote in a response to the report that they agreed with the findings and would implement fixes. Poonam Alaigh, the VA’s acting undersecretary for health, said the hotline is “the strongest it’s ever been since its inception in 2007” and the additional call center, which opened in October, is continuing to staff up.

“This will provide callers with immediate service and achieve zero percent routine rollover to contracted backup centers,” she said.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Donovan Slack