Vets get voice mail at VA Crisis Line

The number 22.

It doesn’t signify one’s age, a date on a calendar, the number of days until one graduates, gets a new job, retires or the distance to one’s mailbox.

It’s the number of vets who commit suicide every day: 22.

Their pain may not be visible though they’ve healed through physical and multiple debilitating injuries. The problem now lies in the brain above the body in the realm of the invisible, whether it is caused from chronic pain, shock, traumatic brain injury, significant emotional trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, a chemical imbalance prompted by depression, chemical or alcohol dependency, exposure to chemicals or environmental toxins during wartime.

It can have far-reaching and irreversible consequences for the veteran and the veteran’s family and friends. The wives and children are impacted once these soldiers return and long after they have left the service. Sometimes, veterans need help immediately.

This is precisely why it’s incomprehensible that selfless, hard-working veterans who have given the best years of their lives diligently dedicated to defending our country and preserving our freedoms would be relegated to the end of the medical food chain when it comes to much-needed reciprocal help for their mental-health issues.

Now, coming to grips with the reality that many friends died or were maimed in Iraq or Afghanistan because of inequitable rules of engagement, friendly fire or at the hands of foreign soldiers who they were training is difficult to comprehend. And now, they are no longer needed, discarded like a well-worn shoe in their transition to the civilian world they find difficulty digesting. Without a sounding board for their issues, fears and challenges, the seeming futility of the heightened turnstile ops tempo of the last 12 years can become an existential crisis for a veteran who may want to numb the emotional and mental pain or end it permanently.

Unthinkable is that in some cases, these veterans have reached out to the VA Crisis Line for help only to receive a voice mail on the other end. Is this the reception we want for our veterans? Would we tolerate this if it were our sons, our daughters or ourselves?

The Military Times reported that at least 23 veterans, troops or family members who called the Veterans Crisis Line in fiscal 2014 experienced long hold times or were transferred to a voicemail system or and their calls never returned, according to a Veterans Affairs Department Inspector General report. Staff members at the backup center were unaware they had a voicemail system, and the calls weren’t returned. Established in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has fielded more than 2 million calls. The number of calls rose by 112 percent from 2013 to 2014.

“… this situation shows that the VA employees in charge of running the crisis line were asleep at the switch – utterly unfamiliar with the day-to-day operations of the program,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R- Fla.) who is also the chairman of the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

Our soldiers are called upon to be at the tip of the spear with their fingers on the pulse. Now an unelected bureaucratic Mephistophelian Fourth Column is asleep at the wheel when they need them the most?

Navarre Press will take an in-depth look at this important issue in a March 17 article by Carmen Reynolds.

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