Even as the U.S. Navy scrambles to address slumping morale and suicides among its ranks, its digital arm has failed to link to the hotline set up to address active duty and veterans who are considering suicide. That’s according to an internal audit obtained by The Intercept which outlines failures to provide even hyperlinked icons on multiple websites under the Navy’s purview. 

The audit, conducted in 2019 by the Naval Audit Service, looked at how websites run by the Navy did at displaying links to the Veterans Crisis Line, a phone line that links veterans with counselors. Since 2014, the Secretary of the Navy has required that Navy websites display an icon and a link to the hotline. According to The Intercept’s reporting, the audit outlined broad failures to display the link. Of the 58 sites audited, 37 were “non compliant.” Per The Intercept, the audit found that the Navy Office of Information did not do enough in offering guidance or mandating compliance.

“When suicide crisis links and phone numbers are not prominently advertised on Navy Web sites, there is a missed opportunity to facilitate and encourage Sailors, civilians, and veterans to seek assistance in a critical time of need,” the audit states.

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The Veterans Crisis Line line was set up in 2007 to provide direct support for veterans and active-duty troops with counselors who understand the specific challenges of military life. 

Recently the Veterans Crisis Line, along with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, were given an easier to use, shorter number: 988. Veterans can dial the number and then 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line. It is also available for any active-duty service member who needs help. The original 10-digit number for the Veterans Crisis Line still works as well. The FY 2022 spending bill passed this spring by Congress includes nearly $600 million in suicide prevention outreach for veterans. 

Still, the Navy has been struggling since the audit to improve even basic online messaging and links to the Veterans Crisis Line. The Intercept reported that despite orders to comply by Sept. 21, 2021, more than half of the sites surveyed in the spring were at the time missing some form of a link to the Veterans Crisis Line, including, the main U.S. Navy website. 

The armed forces as a whole have been dealing with morale and recruiting troubles, in part due to concerns about the impact service can have on mental health. But the Navy has had serious issues, including desertion and multiple deaths aboard the USS George Washington; at least one was ruled a suicide. 

A Navy spokesperson told The Intercept that the service is working to update all of its sites to make sure the Veterans Crisis Line is linked.

If you are struggling and thinking about suicide, or are concerned about a friend, the lifeline is available 24/7 and can be reached by dialing 988. Press 1 to go to the Veterans Crisis Line.

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