Tester Statement on Damning Watchdog Report on Veterans Crisis Line Responder Missteps

Chairman demands action from VA following failed handling of 2019 call from Montana veteran in crisis results in a homicide

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester today released a statement following a damning report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) outlining responder missteps at the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) concerning a Montana veteran, which resulted in a homicide:

“What happened during this 2019 incident is unacceptable. The failure of the Veterans Crisis Line to act quickly and appropriately to stop this tragedy is inexcusable, and proper measures need to be taken to prevent this from happening again. VA has a responsibility to protect our nation’s veterans in crisis, and unequivocally needs to do more to ensure call responders are fully trained on how to properly assess risk and take action. This is especially important in rural states like Montana, where any delay in dispatching emergency services can have lethal consequences. I will be holding VA’s feet to the fire in addressing shortfalls at the Veterans Crisis Line, so that no veteran who reaches out for life-saving assistance falls through the cracks.”

The OIG report highlighted VCL staff’s failure to follow safety protocols, request an emergency dispatch and adequately respond to a Montana veteran in crisis. In response, Chairman Tester is requesting the following information from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):

  • What steps has VA taken to ensure that this kind of response doesn’t happen at the Veterans Crisis Line again?
  • What is the status of the employment of the VCL call responder who handled the Montana veteran’s call in this report?
  • In general, when someone chats the VCL and is transferred to a phone call, do those chat records transfer in real-time?
  • How is VA ensuring that silent monitoring of VCL responders is actually completed to monitor the quality of their calls?

Tester previously demanded action following an OIG report last November that outlined previous mishandlings in the VCL which may have contributed to a veteran’s death. In his letter, he stressed the urgent need for VA to review its policies, training, and quality review mechanisms for determining veteran callers’ suicide risk.

The VCL provides an important service for responding to veterans in crisis and preventing veteran suicide. VCL responders are trained to interact with individuals who contact VCL through calls, chats, and texts to identify a caller’s level of risk for harm, and initiate dispatch of emergency services as indicated by the caller’s risk of imminent harm.

The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you are a veteran in crisis, or concerned about a veteran in crises, please call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text 838255.