The Veterans Crisis Line has failed to meet its time response goal of answering 90 percent of calls within 30 seconds, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.
Established by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007, the line was designed to help veterans struggling emotionally. Veterans used the crisis line more than the VA anticipated and after a full year of operation, calls increased by nearly 700 percent.
"VA cannot ensure that the VCL is providing consistent, high-quality services to callers and cannot effectively track and publicly report progress or results," the report stated.
Protocol mandates that calls not answered within 30 seconds are transferred to backup call centers, but data from fiscal year 2015 shows that for five months, calls were transferred to these backup call centers after 60 seconds.
According to VA officials and later confirmed by GAO testing, data shows approximately 65 to 75 percent of calls received in fiscal year 2015 were answered between 30 to 60 seconds.
The GAO also tested the contact lines text messaging services, revealing four out of 14 test text messages were ignored. VA officials responded by saying the VCL text message system is not monitored or tested. The text message provider oversees its operation.
VA officials told GAO the text message provider had not reported any issues. However, the provider said because VA officials do no testing, limitations in the system cannot be properly addressed.
"While VA has taken a number of steps to improve its monitoring of the VCL primary center operations, VA has not developed measurable targets and time frames for its key performance indicators, such as the program's percentage of abandoned calls," the GAO report said.
The GAO recommends the testing the text messaging system frequently and document "targets and time frames for key performance indicators."