VA Suicide Hotline Is Riddled With Problems, Report Says

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Marines and family members who find themselves battling stress can talk to a trained counselor for free through the “DSTRESS” Line, a Marine Corps-sponsored phone hotline staffed 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
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Last spring, the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s office reported that its Veterans Crisis Line was mired in overloads and delays. An update to the investigation now suggests those problems have only gotten worse.


For the last six months of 2016, the Veterans Crisis Line sent 28% of its calls to backup centers. By December, the amount of calls sent to backup centers was roughly 30%, even after opening a second official call center in Atlanta in October.

The backup centers, which are not run by the VA, ensure that veterans are not left with no one to talk to, but are often not trained to handle all the needs of callers.

The inspector general found last year that staffers at the centers did not always pick up calls quickly, were not always trained to the same level as those at the VA call center and some calls were routed to voicemail,” according to USA Today.

John Daigh, an assistant inspector general, wrote that the hotline didn't have the resources to answer the volume of the calls it received, Military Times reported.

“This led to an increase in the number of calls that rolled over to backup centers and delays in the development and implementation of [hotline] processes, policies, and procedures,” Daigh wrote.

He also suggested that the opening of the Atlanta call center created more wait times than it fixed in the beginning, adding that poor planning led to the temporary transfer of hotline workers from the original facility in upstate New York to Atlanta to help with training.

But the VA is insistent that the hotline is doing its job.

The hotline is “the strongest it’s ever been since its inception in 2007,” Poonam Alaigh, the VA’s acting undersecretary for health, said.

Officials who analyzed the process say it needs work. The Inspector General’s office has recommended better education for staff, technological support, performance evaluations, and a call monitoring system.

The crisis line has answered more than 2.5 million calls since it was opened in 2007. In addition to sending emergency services to more than 66,000 callers, it was also featured in an HBO documentary — “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” — that won an Oscar in 2015.

For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.

"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.

In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.

"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."

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On Sept. 3, Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to provide a total of up to 5,500 troops along the border until Sept. 30, 2020, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, said on Monday.

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Editor's note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

On Aug. 16, two 7-ton trucks collided aboard Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California. Thirty Marines were sent to the hospital.

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