Unacceptable work at two VA facilities is an insult to the nation’s veterans

The Buffalo News

February 23, 2016

The nation’s veterans should never have to wonder whether facilities meant to serve them are clean and sanitary, or if they have an emotional crisis someone will pick up the suicide hotline. Yet, veterans are facing such obstacles. What an insult to people who put their lives on hold to serve their country.

Two separate stories in the past few weeks illustrate the sad point.

The first, reported earlier this month in The Buffalo News, found a host of problems at a Veterans Affairs psychiatric clinic in Buffalo. Federal auditors cited problems including a doubling of wait times for new patients, improper documentation for the needles used at the facility and poor sanitation.

These unacceptable conditions were discovered by the VA’s Office of Inspector General at the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Recovery Center at 2963 Main St. The facility treats veterans with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A News story last week dealt with one of the backup centers for a Department of Veterans Affairs suicide hotline in Canandaigua, which routed more than 20 calls to voicemail in 2014.

If that weren’t bad enough, when Veterans Crisis Line management investigated these complaints, it turns out that the backup center staff was unaware the voicemail system existed, so no calls were returned.

The national suicide hotline is based in the VA Canandaigua Medical Center. It is a busy place, handling tens of thousands of phone calls, and the numbers continue to increase. With nearly 2 million calls taken since starting in 2007 and the more than 50,000 lifesaving interventions noted in the inspector general’s report, the problem may seem small. But it can have a devastating impact.

Long wait times at a clinic. Not being put through to what could be lifesaving assistance. How could this be allowed to happen?

Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, has made his frustrations known. Following the revelations about the psychiatric clinic, he called for the firing of the VA’s medical director in Buffalo. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, whose district includes the Buffalo facility, was more circumspect, suggesting a meeting with the medical director to discuss the findings.

As for the VA suicide hotline, Collins said he will request that the House Veterans Affairs Committee hold hearings.

Solutions need to be found in short order. Our veterans deserve it.

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