Senator Collins Calls on VA to Fix Flaw That Can Lengthen Response Time to Reach Veterans in Crisis

WGME’s I-Team recently reported on an incident in Maine where the Veterans Crisis Line sent law enforcement to the wrong veteran’s home

Click HERE to watch WGME I-Team’s investigation

 

Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ letter

 

Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to raise concerns about an apparent problem with the Veterans Crisis Line, a nationwide suicide prevention hotline for veterans.  A recent issue in Maine that was highlighted in an investigation by WGME’s I-Team revealed that the public databases that the Veterans Crisis Line uses to match names with telephone numbers of veterans who call or text the hotline may not be accurate.

 

“The men and women who served our nation in uniform should never have to face a crisis or experience suicidal thoughts alone,” said Senator Collins.  “When they reach out for help, it is our duty to make sure someone is there to listen and send assistance immediately if needed.”

 

“The Veterans Crisis Line is an invaluable, life-saving resource that receives 1,700 calls nearly every day,” Senator Collins continued.  “Although it has made significant improvements in recent years, I am troubled by this incident in Maine.  Sending a police officer to the wrong house wastes precious time needed to find the veteran who is actually in crisis and may cause confusion or anxiety for the veteran who was incorrectly identified.  As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I called on the VA to address this issue.  I stand ready to support VA in its mental health care and suicide prevention efforts.”

 

Last month, Rebecca and Greg Cummings of Windham contacted Senator Collins’ Portland Constituent Service Center and explained how they were awakened by a police officer at midnight on January 22nd, 2020.  The officer told them he was there because Greg had texted the Veterans Crisis Line that he was suicidal and planned to act on it that night.  The Cummings, both veterans, identified the phone number as one that they previously owned when they were living in El Paso, Texas, six years ago. 

 

The police officer called the Veterans Crisis Line for more information.  The operator who initially received the suicidal text said he believed the phone number belonged to Greg based on a search of multiple four public websites the Veterans Crisis Line uses to source names to telephone numbers.  Three of the four websites listed Greg.  The operator also searched the Veterans Crisis Line’s database and confirmed that Gregory was a veteran.  Eventually, the number was traced to the correct veteran, and the local police department in Texas was notified.

 

The Veterans Crisis Line has made significant improvements over the years and addressed many shortcomings.  The average wait time for a caller to speak to a live person is eight seconds.  Last year, however, the VA’s Inspector General recommended that the agency take action to address issues affecting caller location rescue efforts.

 

On February 13th, Senator Collins sent a letter to the VA asking for an update on actions taken on this VA OIG recommendation.  She also requested additional information on what tools the Veterans Crisis Line needs to do its job effectively.