VA suicide hotline sent callers to voicemail

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A suicide hotline operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs allowed crisis calls to go into voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance, according to a report by the agency’s internal watchdog.

The report by the VA’s Office of Inspector General says calls to the suicide hotline have increased dramatically in recent years, as veterans increasingly seek services following prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and as Vietnam-era veterans age.

The crisis hotline — the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary — received more than 450,000 calls in 2014, a 40 percent increase over the previous year.

About 1 in 6 calls are redirected to backup centers when the crisis line is overloaded, the report said. Calls went to voicemail at some backup centers, including at least one where staffers apparently were unaware there was a voicemail system, the report said.