VA Battles Legislative, Media Criticism of Veterans Crisis Line

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON—The VA is pushing back hard against accusations last month that calls to the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) were not being handled appropriately.

“Several media outlets have recently chronicled the challenges of the Veterans Crisis Line, reporting that calls to the Veterans Crisis Line were rolling over and were being ignored or unanswered. That is simply untrue,” VA Under Secretary of Health David Shulkin, MD, wrote in an op-ed piece that was distributed to several news organizations.

The greatest fear for VA, Shulkin noted, is that “veterans or their families who read hastily-reported news stories become afraid to speak up because they believe their calls will go unanswered.”

“That would yield devastating results,” he wrote.

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Is the Veterans Crisis Line responsive enough to veterans in need?

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His comments came days after Congress passed a 2017 spending bill for VA, mandating that the VCL provide individuals who contact the hotline with immediate assistance from a trained professional and adheres to all requirements of the American Association of Suicidology.

Staffers at the Veterans Crisis Line. Recent congressional action reflects concerns of lawmakers that some veteran calls to the VCL are going unanswered and follows news media reports of challenges with the crisis line. VA photo

Staffers at the Veterans Crisis Line. Recent congressional action reflects concerns of lawmakers that some veteran calls to the VCL are going unanswered and follows news media reports of challenges with the crisis line. VA photo

There is absolutely no excuse for a veteran to contact the Veterans Crisis Line and not get the help they are seeking,” pointed out Rep. David Young (R-IA), who sponsored a bill addressing those issues that had also passed in the House at the end of September.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Jed Olson says:

    As a primary care practitioner, one of the most important things I do is to give out the Veterans Crisis Line phone number to my veteran patients. I give my veterans this phone number printed on paper, on pens, on refrigerator magnets, and on bracelets my patients can wear. Many of my veterans have called this number at one point or another when things got tough- often in the middle of the night or when they were far away from a VA facility. I have never seen a case in which one of my patients was not helped urgently, efficiently, and aggressively when they called the Veterans Crisis Line. Moreover, the Veterans Crisis Line does an amazing job documenting those calls in detail and making sure all relevant health care practitioners are notified of them-this helps us do a better job making sure a veteran in crisis does not fall through the cracks. I’ve worked in other health systems before, and none of them had anything remotely as good as the Veterans Crisis line for urgent mental health assistance. The people that provide this service have a critical and under-appreciated job, and they are dedicated to helping our veterans in crisis. I have no doubt they have saved the lives of a number of my patients, and that they will continue to do so.

  2. TED SWITZER, MD says:

    The evaluation of this allegation should be easy to refute. What are the data ?
    – How many calls does the VETERANS CRISIS LINE RECEIVE PER DAY ?
    – What are the peak times ?
    – What are the average waiting times during peak and off-peak times ?
    – What percentage of calls go unanswered ?
    – Of the unanswered calls, how long did the caller wait ?

    After the data is presented, readers will be able to come to an informed opinion. Otherwise, responses to the questions here are not based on fact.

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