Two news stories this week tell entirely different stories about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide hotline. One of the news stories was published by military.com and the other was published by USA Today.
The reason for the discrepancy is easy to explain. USA Today.is a national news organization that publishes in-depth news stories on a wide variety of subjects, while military.com is an online resource for members of the active duty military and veterans. Every week military.com publishes a list of links to articles of interest to the members of the military and veterans. Their story about the suicide hotline, VA Updates Crisis Lines, was based on a press release from the VA.
“Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson has announced improvements to enhance and accelerate progress at the Veterans Crisis Line. The Veterans Crisis Line will form a stronger bond with VA’s Suicide Prevention Office and Mental Health Services. The Veterans Crisis Line will also be under the direction of VA’s Member Services, which has many efforts underway to restructure portions of VA that have direct contact with Veterans.”
The story from USA Today, New VA hotline chief has a history of dropped calls from veterans, is a follow up article on an in-depth story about the same subject published by USA Today last month, VA suicide hotline in Oscar-winning documentary lets calls go to voicemail.
According to USA Today, as many as one in five calls from veterans to the VA’s suicide hotline either go unanswered or get transferred to voicemail. At a Senate hearing last Thursday, Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on VA appropriations, told a Senate hearing about a 30-year-old Army veteran from Illinois who called the VA’s suicide hotline in July 2015. But nobody answered the phone. So Tom Young, who served in Iraq, committed suicide by lying down on some nearby railroad tracks and waited for a train to come by.
Young had returned from his second tour of Iraq in 2004 with severe PTSD. He had gone to the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital west of Chicago for help with a drinking problem, but he was turned him away by the VA, since he wasn’t suicidal, and because they didn’t have any space available to treat veterans who are self-medicating with alcohol in order to deal with their PTSD.
Young had a chest full of medals and a head full of nightmares. But the VA didn’t care. On July 23, 2015 Young’s body was found on the railroad tracks after he had been struck by a Metra commuter train in suburban Chicago. Tom Young leaves behind a wife and two daughters. The next day, Young’s phone rang; it was the VA’s suicide hotline returning his call. A young life lost because nobody manning the VA’s suicide hotline answered the phone.