The Department of Veterans Affairs’ crisis hot line didn’t answer up to 30 percent of texts from desperate veterans, according to a new government watchdog investigation.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Monday, which found that “tests of text messages revealed a potential area of concern.”
The crisis hotline received 13,000 texts in 2014 and 16,000 in 2015. To test whether the VA was actually responding to veterans in serious need, GAO sent a series of test text messages to the hotline. Out of a total of 14 messages sent, four were ignored.
That’s an ignore rate of 28.6 percent.
Of the other 10 texts, eight were answered in two minutes. The other two received answers in just under five minutes.
The VA gave several reasons as to why some messages were ignored, one of which was tha6t there was an incompatibility between the device used to send the message and the VA’s message receiving software. Another possible reason was that there were too many incoming texts at the same time.
Yet, it’s unclear exactly what went wrong and whether the text messages ignored were due to technical errors or a simple failure of staff to respond.
The text messaging service the VA has contracted does not routinely test the system.
“Without routinely testing its text messaging system, or ensuring that its provider tests the system, VA cannot ensure that it is identifying limitations with its text messaging service and resolving them to provide consistent, reliable service to veterans,” the GAO said.
The VA did not dispute this recommendation and wholeheartedly agreed.
The text message GAO report came after a similar report in February, which discovered that nearly two dozen people who called the VA crisis hotline were sent straight to voicemail.
Staff at the time didn’t even know the VA had a voicemail messaging system, and so they did not return the calls of these desperate vets.
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