A veterans' suicide hotline bounced about 30 percent of its calls to non-VA backup centers for several months in 2016, Stars and Stripes reported Monday.
The finding came in a Veterans Affairs inspector general's office report an internal watchdog released Monday that outlined widespread problems with the suicide hotline, according to the military news outlet.
The VA estimated 10 percent of the hotline calls would roll over to backup centers, which are not operated by the VA, when phone lines are busy.
But from April to November 2016, the number of calls diverted was about 30 percent – even after a second call center was opened in Atlanta in October, the watchdog report found.
The number of calls sent to backup centers during that time peaked in November, when nearly 18,000 – about 35 percent – were rolled over, Stars and Stripes reported.
The findings come in the wake of internal emails sent last September by the hotline's former director, Greg Hughes, stating 35 to 40 percent of calls were rolling over to backup centers.
The reports – and earlier findings from the inspector general that 23 callers were sent to a voicemail system – prompted a new law requiring the VA to submit improvement plans, Stars and Stripes reported.
The GOP leaders of Veterans' Affairs committees in Congress were outraged.
"It's unacceptable that the issues with the Veterans Crisis Line have still not been addressed," Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said in a statement, Stars and Stripes reported.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said in a statement he was "disappointed by the lack of action taken by the [VA] to consider the recommendations for improving the shortcomings of the Veterans Crisis Line that were previously identified . . . more than a year ago," the outlet reported.
Poonam Alaigh, the VA's acting under secretary for health, told Stars and Stripes the VA would follow up on the 16 recommendations the inspector general made in the latest report, and said the agency was making "notable advances to improve access and quality of service to mental health crisis care for veterans . . ."
Alaigh said the hotline has answered nearly 2.6 million calls since its start in 2007, and initiated emergency services in 67,000 instances, Stars and Stripes reported.
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