News : Veterans Crisis Line to Expand at Canandaigua VA
CanandaIigua, NY, USA, March 20, 2015 -- On the heels of last month’s Oscar gold for the HBO documentary "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1," the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs announced the crisis line at the Canandaigua VA will receive more staff and support.
The documentary went inside the crisis line focused on suicide prevention. The Veterans Crisis Line handles more than 22,000 calls a month and has responded to more than 1.3 million calls since it began in July 2007. The Academy Award let "all Americans see the power of the work people do" to help veterans in crisis, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson told reporters during a press conference at the VA on Fort Hill Avenue.
With that, Sloan said the Veterans Crisis Line will receive more support.
"It is not just a call center," he said during a press conference following a tour of the Canandaigua VA. Working the crisis line takes a toll on employees mentally and emotionally, he said. In helping relieve those stresses, Sloan said the center will be expanded in terms of space, receive additional employees, and be upgraded in its business operations to become more efficient and "state-of-the-art."
Calling it a "robust, comprehensive program for our staff," Sloan said the support will address such issues as "structuring time off the phone" for dispatchers to ensure those employees take breaks to avoid "compassion fatigue." The plan also calls for a staff psychologist to focus on taking care of crisis line employees.
Sloan talked with reporters after touring the VA and meeting privately with local VA leaders, officials and heads of certain local veterans groups. Sloan said two of the four national call centers prompted his visit to the Canandaigua VA: the Veterans Crisis Line and the Call Center for Homeless Veterans.
On the call center for homeless vets, Sloan said improvements are in the works. Matthew Eitutis, director of the the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Resource Center — who was with the group of VA leaders traveling with Sloan — said an action plan with some 200 goals to address reporting, response and other issues is underway. Work began March 17 on the project that is to be done by this Sept. 17, Eitutis said.
The appearance by top VA brass also included a visit to the Women Veterans Call Center. Sloan said he was impressed by the outreach staff is doing to inform women vets of their benefits and help more veterans access those benefits.
Sloan also commended the Canandaigua VA for keeping wait times down for veterans needing appointments. The average wait time in January for veterans’ preferred appointment times for primary care was no more than four days; for a specialist, no more than three days; and for a mental health appointment, no more than two days.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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