The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.
During my police days, I dealt with a great many suicidal people. I even did the stereotypical suicide save: I talked a suicidal man off the ledge of a tall building. I know many things about the suicidal, and among them is this: people who call suicide hotlines tend to be on the serious side, people who are seriously considering dying by their own hand. Therefore, anyone establishing a suicide hotline had better be damned serious about it, for if they fail, people die. There is no way to know how many the VA has killed, as CNN reports:
A VA suicide hotline designed to help distressed vets, at times instead sent their calls to a voicemail message, provided no immediate assistance, and did not even return some calls, according to a new report.
The hotline at the center of the disturbing new report is the Veterans Crisis Line, or VCL, based in Canandaigua, New York. The crisis center was recently the focus of a HBO documentary praising the workers’ tireless efforts to help vets. The film, ‘Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,’ even won an Oscar last year. (HBO and CNN have the same parent company, Time Warner.)
Oh. Well. It must be a great place, full of dedicated people making “tireless efforts to help vets,” then? Not so much.
But it turns out the suicide hotline itself was in trouble, and not helping some veterans in their worst time of need, according to the report.
The VA Office of Inspector General of Healthcare Inspections began investigating the crisis call center last year after complaints by veterans that they were placed on hold, or transferred to voicemail, or not given appropriate help when most in need.
The Office of Special Counsel also received complaints, prompting the IG to further investigate.
Investigators determined that during busy times at the center, veterans would get redirected to a backup center, or sent to voicemail and sometimes never got a return call, the report said.
The report also raised concerns about staff training.
‘We also substantiated that VCL management did not provide social service assistants with adequate orientation and ongoing training,’ the report states.
Now wait a darned minute! President Obama has pledged to move heaven and earth to ensure our vets get what is due them. Surely these backup centers were able to pick up the slack? Not so much.
And for workers in the backup center, where phone calls sometimes landed during busy times, the report also said ‘we did find evidence that raised concerns regarding backup center training adequacy.
Translation: The people taking calls from suicidal veterans had little or no idea what they were doing. But hey, the suicide situation can’t be all that serious, right? Right?
Ironically, the call center was part of an overall VA plan to address the staggering problem of veteran suicides. According to the report 20% of those who kill themselves are veterans. From October 1, 2008, through the end of 2010, ‘VHA suicide prevention coordinators reported approximately 5 suicide deaths per day and nearly 950 veteran suicide attempts per month among veterans receiving care,’ the report states.
Oh. But surely the VA is working hard to see that things are running effectively and that all deficiencies are quickly identified and fixed?
The IG office also said it had identified ‘gaps’ in a ‘quality assurance process’ at the crisis call center.
‘These gaps included an insufficient number of required staff supervision reviews, inconsistent tracking and resolution of VCL quality assurance issues, and a lack of collection and analysis of backup center data, including incomplete caller outcome or disposition information from backup center staff.
Oh. Translation: The VA isn’t checking to see that call takers are actually taking calls and doing what they should when they do; the VA isn’t keeping records about any of it; and they’re not making sure there is sufficient or adequate follow up on calls they do handle. In other words, where the lives of veterans are at stake, the VA obviously doesn’t give a rodent’s posterior.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans said Thursday they were well aware of the report and its findings, and said that efforts have been underway for a year to make improvements.
‘It is important for veterans and our key stakeholders to know that the VA undertook actions to strengthen Veterans Crisis Line operations long before publication of the inspector general report. The goal is to make the Veterans Crisis Line nothing short of a world-class crisis response center,’ said VA Deputy Secretary Sloane Gibson.
Gibson said that, since last year, the VCL has hired a director with a better background, a deputy director with call center management experience, four dedicated staff trainers and six dedicated quality managers. He also said there is now improved data that provides ‘the most responders at the times when veterans are most in crisis,’ and he said staff training has been ‘strengthened.
Oh, great. So how many veterans have died while the VA’s efforts “have been underway for a year? Translation: “data” –bogus numbers that will show whatever the VA wants them to show.
Since the crisis line began operations in 2007, our crisis line responders have saved 53,000 Veterans,’ he said ‘Getting this right is a top priority.
Oh goodie. The VA, with an essentially unlimited number of highly paid, unionized federal employees, can’t take calls from suicidal veterans, make sure they get to speak to the right people, take down their personal information, and make sure there is proper follow up. Fascinating, that, when one considers that volunteers around the nation do all of that very effectively, and one of them are unionized federal employees. How can that be? The federal government, for more than seven years now, has been led by the most intelligent, capable, caring, and brilliant man ever to hold the presidency. He has often expressed his great concern and caring for Veterans. How can this be?
It’s all so confusing…