Tenn. Congressman blasts VA for crisis hotline problems

Apr 4, 2017

U.S. Rep. Dr. Phil Roe (R) Kingsport, Tenn.
Credit cspan.org

WASHINGTON, DC  (WMOT)  --  Tennessee Congressional Representative. Phil Roe led a committee of skeptical lawmakers in questioning the head of the troubled Veterans Administration Tuesday.

Roe, an East Tennessee Republican and a physician, is chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Roe’s committee was questioning VA Secretary David Shulkin Tuesday morning about an inspector general’s report.  Teh report shows that one third of all calls to the VA’s suicide prevention hotline are not being answered by VA staff as recently as this past October.

Shulkin told the committee the VA has since solved the hotline problem. The number of missed calls is now well under one percent. But lawmakers were skeptical. Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz noted that the suicide hotline has operated without a permanent director for more than year.

Walz concluded his remarks by making a direct appeal to any vets in crisis.

“This nation loves you. We’re here to help. There is a better day. Make that call. Talk to the family. Do what needs to be done, because all of us want to get that right.”

Tennessee’s Roe threatened that heads will roll by the end of the year at the VA if some of the agency’s outstanding problems aren’t fixed. He placed special emphasis on getting crisis care right.

“It’s an individual that really matters. That one person that picks up the phone and calls at 10 o’clock tonight, desperate. Make sure that we have a human being on the other end that’s going to be empathetic to their problem and can get their needs met.”

Approximately 20 veterans take their lives each day. The VA crisis hotline has answered nearly 2.8 million calls and has dispatched emergency services more than 74,000 times.