GOP slams 'incompetence' at VA suicide hotline

Getty Images

A pair of Senate Republicans are slamming the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after a top watchdog found that some calls to its suicide crisis hotline were being sent to voicemail. 

"The culture of corruption and incompetence at the VA knows no boundaries. To think that we lose 22 veterans to suicide every day in this country — and our VA allows their calls to go to voicemail — is unforgivable," Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkWhite House dismisses GOP senator's likening of Obama to 'drug dealer in chief' The Trail 2016: Focus on the Foundation White House: 0M Iran payment wasn’t ransom MORE (R-Ill.), who faces a tough reelection bid, said Wednesday.

Kirk's remarks follow a report from the VA's Office of Inspector General that found some calls to the hotline, which was created to help address suicide among veterans, were eventually sent to a voicemail system or didn't receive immediate assistance from a staffer.

Sen. John McCainJohn McCainPence tweets to congratulate ‘good friend’ McCain Clinton: Treat cyberattacks 'like any other attack' The Hill’s 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, added separately that he was "disappointed" by the report's findings.

"It is shocking that VA leadership only seems to find out about these widespread problems after they come to light in the media," he said. "The VA’s inability to run a call center and deal with increasing demand has put our nation’s veterans at greater risk."

The inspector general report made seven recommendations including collecting data on calls made to the hotline and making sure all training for crisis hotline staffers is documented. The VA, in the report, agreed with all of the recommendations and said it would implement them by Sept. 30.

The VA has been under congressional scrutiny since a 2014 scandal over allegations that VA employees conspired to hide long wait times for veterans seeking medical appointments. Lawmakers also passed legislation last year to bolster the VA's suicide prevention efforts.