JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – A Northeast Tennessee congressman is angry about reports stating more than one-third of calls to a Veterans Affairs crisis hotline were not answered due to poor work habits by employees.
Congressman Phil Roe, who serves on the Veterans Affairs committee, said he is disappointed, after the former crisis hotline director claimed employees were sometimes answering only five calls a day or letting others go to voice mail.
Veteran Bob Ryon has never called the VA crisis line, but for friends and fellow veterans, he said, “They need help when they need help, and they need somebody to answer it.”
“If you can’t answer the phone and talk to somebody like that, why are you there?” said Roe.
Thursday, Roe wrote a letter to VA secretary Robert McDonald, asking for accountability.
“There should be some people who don’t pick up a paycheck tomorrow, if you’re not answering the phone and doing your job,” said Roe.
It is particularly frustrating to Roe because he said, “I’ve continually voted to increase the funding for veterans.”
Roe said about 170 billion taxpayer dollars go toward the VA, so he said funding isn’t an excuse.
“We’re providing resources, American people are saying we want our veterans cared for,” Roe said. “I expect this problem to be fixed, and if this problem isn’t fixed then people need to be fired.”
Roe said he is confident in the care the VA can provide once veterans get in to the system, but said that cannot happen until they are heard.
A VA spokesperson said in a statement, “The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes the importance of the Veterans Crisis Line, which serves as a life-saving resource for the nation’s Veterans who find themselves at risk of suicide.” The statement also mentioned taking steps to enhance the capability of the line, including creating a satellite VCL site in Atlanta as well as increasing staff.
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