Allen B. West

Audit uncovers HORRIFIC fact about VA suicide hotline

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Over 300,000 of our veterans have died while waiting for care from the Veteran’s administration, and that’s just from the physical care they fail to provide.

When it comes to mental health, a recent audit from the Government Accountability Office found they’re anything but accountable in that regard. The Hill reports:

Almost 30 percent of text messages sent as a test to a crisis hotline for suicidal veterans went unanswered, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Monday.

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“Our tests of text messages revealed a potential area of concern,” the report reads.

Note to self: in the world of government, 30 percent of suicide hotline texts going unanswered is a “potential area of concern.”

The GAO report follows a scathing inspector general report from February that found some calls to the hotline were going to voicemail or didn’t receive immediate attention.

The inspector general report prompted backlash in Congress, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in turn promised to fix issues in answering calls to the hotline. The GAO report also addressed the wait time for callers and noted that the VA is working on its response times to those calling the hotline.

But no similar attention has been placed on responding to text messages, it added.

The hotline received about 13,000 texts in 2014 and 16,000 in 2015, and VA officials told the GAO that 87 percent received a response within two minutes in both years.

Now, the VA may have a defense in that the GAO had a small sample size. As part of its report, the agency sent 14 test text messages to the hotline. Of those, four went unanswered, for a rate of 28.6 percent of texts unanswered, though the GAO specified its sample is “nongeneralizable.”

Of the rest of the texts, eight got responses within two minutes, and two got responses within five minutes.

The texts sent by the agency were simple greetings such as “Hi” or “Hello.” That might have contributed to the slow responses, the GAO said, because hotline workers try to respond first to ones that indicate a crisis.

As to why some weren’t answered at all, the hotline’s text messaging service provider offered five possible reasons: incompatibilities between devices sending the texts messages and the software the VA uses to process the messages; software malfunctions that freeze the hotline’s text messaging interface; inaudible audio prompts used to alert responders of incoming texts; attempts to overload the system with a large number of texts; and incompatibilities between the web browsers used by the call center and the text messaging software.

The VA told the GAO it relies on its text messaging service provider to monitor and test the text messaging system, the report says. But the provider said it doesn’t conduct any routine testing.

“Without routinely testing its text messaging system, or ensuring that its provider tests the system, VA cannot ensure that it is identifying limitations with its text messaging service and resolving them to provide consistent, reliable service to veterans,” the GAO said.

The GAO recommended the VA test the hotline text messaging system, and the VA agreed.

The VA’s suicide hotline does have very real problems with responding, and as the article noted, that’s with direct calls as well. Just last month quadruple amputee Todd Nicely attempted suicide after his calls to the VA’s hotline were ignored. I understand that the VA may claim calls only go ignored when they’re flooded with them, and our men and women in Congress should take note. Our Federal government spends roughly $10 billion a day – don’t you think they can afford to employ a few more phone operators?

[Note: This post was authored by The Analytical Economist]

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