VA Crisis Hotline Calls Going Unanswered, Lawmakers React

DES MOINES, Iowa -- It’s a call for help but many Iowans say a call into the VA crisis hotline often goes unanswered.

On Wednesday, veterans and non-veterans alike filled the VFW in Beaverdale. All were there to write a personal letter to Bob McDonald, the Secretary of the VA, demanding that someone is available to answer the hotline.

In Charlene Joens letter she wrote, “As a member of my local VF auxiliary, I know many veterans who have returned from deployment who now struggle with PTSD,” as she teared up. “One friend by the name of Chris took his own life a year ago. He left two young children and three dogs behind.”

A 2016 internal Veterans Affairs inspection found the unanswered calls into the 24-crisis hotline were routed to back up crisis centers due to high call volume. Those calls were either answered by voicemail or rang for several minutes before they were answered. It also found employees at the centers do not have ongoing training on how to handle potentially lifesaving calls.

In June, Congressman David Young introduced the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act. The bi-partisan bill would require for all calls to be answered.

Veteran David Creighton questions why an organization dedicated to helping veterans isn’t helping.

“That’s what it was designed to do. I don’t know why it’s not," he said. “If you’re in the process of thinking about suicide, that’s the ultimate end. Somebody’s gotta be there to answer you.”

For Joens, she says this creates more doubt when it comes to the VA.

“I have concerns that the services just aren`t readily available for the local community and if they are not then the hotline had better be answered all the time," she said.

The VA crisis hotline is a national call center provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. We reached out to the organization but did not receive a response.

However, according to the New York Daily Times, the VA says it will implement changes to its call center protocol by the end of the month.

Congressman Young’s campaign also says he is working to ensure that the bill is considered during this year's session.