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Veterans suicide hotline failings: could volunteers be the answer?

SOS emergency telephone operators receive phone calls in Kuta, Bali island, 05 October 2005.
SOS emergency telephone operators receive phone calls in Kuta, Bali island, 05 October 2005.

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More than one-third of calls to the Veterans Affairs (VA) suicide hotline goes unanswered, according to Greg Hughes, the former hotline director at the VA.

Speaking to members of Congress yesterday, Hughes explained that one reason for the large number of unanswered calls are the routine requests to leave early among the staffers. Compared to the U.S. population, both active soldiers and returned veterans have a notably higher risk of suicide. The hotline staffers working with this vulnerable group could be experiencing “compassion fatigue,” a symptom commonly seen in caretakers of trauma victims.

One solution dealing with “compassion fatigue” among crisis line staffers could be volunteers. With a different set of motivations and fewer working hours, volunteers could provide more attention and thus more effective counseling to the callers in need. 

Larry Mantle speaks with Jason Roncoroni, executive director of Stop Soldier Suicide (a civilian non-profit dedicated to military and veteran suicide prevention) and Kita Curry, president of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, about the best way to staff and manage suicide prevention hotlines. 


Jason Roncoroni, Executive Director at StopSoldierSuicide, a civilian not-for-profit organization dedicated to preventing active duty and Veteran suicide; Roncoroni retired after battalion command as a 21 year Veteran in Army Aviation - including three tours in Afghanistan

Kita Curry, President and CEO at  Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a Los Angeles-based non-profit mental health organization. The center provides a multilingual 24/7 crisis line