Veteran suicide is an acute problem


Selena Cotte

By Opinions Editor

Only about one-third of all calls made to the Veteran’s Affairs suicide hotline in New York City are answered, according to Greg Hughes—the former crisis line director—in an email sent to the call center, which was reported Sept. 26 by the Associated Press.

The rest of the calls go to voicemail, and suicidal veterans on the line get no help with their mental health problems.

Approximately 22 U.S. veterans die by suicide every day, according to the VA. Those who served in the military often struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and, sometimes, physical injuries or disabilities that cause extra stress. All these factors make suicidal tendencies more likely to occur in a veteran than a civilian, but mental illness should be taken seriously in regard to all individuals.

Crisis line workers often leave work early or choose not to answer the phones because there are no repercussions for doing so, according to the email. Sometimes workers even answer just one phone call a day. Such negligence is irresponsible and devastating. ER doctors are not allowed to turn away patients for such petty reasons, so why would suicide hotline workers be allowed to?

The VA responded by saying it is going to add a new call center in Atlanta to supplement its New York City location and improve training for call operators to increase sensitivity and overall preparation for the sometimes-draining job. The new center will also allow for more calls to be answered.

This is not the first time the VA has neglected veterans. Scandals plague the VA’s history, from understocked hospitals to long wait lists for healthcare. If the U.S. wants to invest the amount of money it does in military spending, it must also take care of those who served their country once they return home. The VA has done better in recent years, and its call to action in light of this situation was the right move, but the fact that it happened in the first place is disappointing. 

There are also bills in Congress and the Senate that would make it illegal not to respond in a timely manner to suicidal veterans who contact the hotline. Even if they are not passed, it is important that all emergency hotline services that advertise themselves as options for people who fear for their lives  be manned 24 hours a day. To do otherwise would be to neglect the very people they promised to help.

When veterans or anyone feels suicidal and decides to reach out for help, it should be considered an emergency. Some states have involuntary commitment laws that can force people to be hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or tendencies, which shows how serious of an issue it is. Six out of the 20 veterans that die by suicide every day attempted to reach out for some kind of help; that help has to be there when they need it.

The quick response is encouraging, but not sufficient. Going forward, suicide hotline workers should answer calls for help whenever they occur, or face the consequences that come with not listening when they should have. This is not a case of lazy people just not doing their jobs; it is a literal matter of life and death, and the blood is on their hands.