VA secretary: Less than 1 percent of calls to suicide hotline go unanswered

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said there has been a sharp decline in the number of veterans who can't get through when they call the department's suicide hotline.

A report from the Office of the Inspector General published in March found that nearly a third of calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) crisis hotline were being forwarded to an outside service or just not being answered.

But Shulkin said Monday that the number of veterans who call the hotline and are sent to a backup line has dropped from 30 percent to less than 1 percent and insisted the calls are being answered.

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"Somebody will answer the phone. The question is whether it rolls over to a backup service. The backup service are trained responders, but they are not VA employees," Shulkin told CNN on Monday.

"Just several months ago, 30 percent of our calls were rolling over to a backup center. Today, that number would be less than 1 percent, so it's not zero, but it literally is a handful.”

Earlier this month, Shulkin reportedly said 200 additional responders were hired at the beginning of the year to help support the crisis line.