Suicide Prevention Hotline Fails US Veterans

Call Recording Featured Article

Suicide Prevention Hotline Fails US Veterans

June 05, 2017

One of the most critical forms of assistance for U.S. veterans, the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL), is underperforming in its call center and has no call recording mechanism in place, according to an internal review. The VCL is a suicide prevention hotline so response times and quality assurance can be a matter of life or death. And according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans die each day by suicide.

An investigation by the Veterans Health Administration’s inspector general last February generated seven recommendations that would improve call center performance for the crisis line, but none of them have been implemented so far. The report from that investigation revealed that some calls to the hotline were routed to backup crisis centers and were answered by voicemail instead of VCL or backup staff.

The inspector general recommended the VCL gather better data from calls being routed to backup centers as well as implementing silent monitoring of responders, all which could be accomplished with the proper call recording tools. The report also recommended that VCL ensure staff orientation and training goals were being met. The hotline, launched in 2007, has responded to nearly 2.8 million calls since its launch as well as initiating emergency services more than 74,000 times.

The investigation also found that the VCL failed to respond adequately to a veteran’s urgent need in at least one instance. There are also ongoing deficiencies in the way the crisis line manages its incoming phone calls as well as problems in the governance and oversight of VCL operations. And apparently, the VCL has a practice of manually writing down caller phone numbers and has failed to implement a process to review adverse outcomes. Finally, the VCL has no technology or tools in place for recording calls or tracking the quality performance at the backup call centers handling call overflow.

The report included several additional recommendations, all designed to address some of the problems. These include holding the backup call centers to the same standards as the VCL, developing more robust reporting on clinical outcomes, reviewing data on outcomes and implementing an automated transcription function for caller’s phone numbers.

While the report is deeply disturbing, most of the deficiencies could be addressed through a quality call monitoring and recording solution. Since the crisis line handles an estimated half a million calls per year, as well as texts and emails, such technology should be an imperative for the organization.

Veterans, their families and friends and military personnel can reach the line confidentially at 1-800-273-8255, by texting 838255 or through online chat via the VCL website.


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