Frank Konkel | Nextgov | April 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

Veterans Calling VA's Crisis Line Can Finally Get Through. Here’s Why.

Ed Andrieski/AP

Just a year ago, troubled veterans who called seeking the Veterans Affairs Department crisis line were greeted with an off-putting message that may have caused more harm than good.

“It would literally say, ‘If you’re having thoughts of suicide, hang up and dial a 1-800 number,” said Scott Blackburn, interim deputy secretary at VA. “That was the response one year ago.”

Not surprisingly, Blackburn said 30 percent of the veterans attempting to connect to the crisis line would drop off—and the harsh reality is 20 veterans commit suicide nationwide every day.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

“Unacceptable,” Blackburn said, speaking Wednesday at ACT-IAC’s Customer Experience Summit.

Fixing this problem became one of the main early objectives of the VA’s Veteran Experience wing, created under former Secretary Robert McDonald in 2015. The wing is a mix of customer service professionals and techies, and it tackled VA’s communication problems immediately.

Today, veterans who call seeking VA’s crisis line are greeted with a message to “press 7” to connect to the crisis line, and the tweak has reduced the rollover rate to less than 1 percent, Blackburn said.

Blackburn said it’s also increased demand, leading to VA opening a second crisis hub in Atlanta in addition to a facility in New York. VA, he said, is answering 50 percent more crisis calls every day, buoyed because troubled veterans know someone will pick up the phone when they’re in need.

“We realized demand jumped,” Blackburn said. “It’s great because we’re helping more people but it was bad because weren’t ready to handle that volume. That’s quite a transformation and this is happening very much in real time.”

In addition to the improved crisis line, Blackburn said VA has vastly improved response times of its benefits national call center. In January 2016, 59 percent of the calls made to the call center were blocked, and those lucky veterans who got through spent minutes or hours on the phone waiting for answers.

“We couldn’t even measure the abandonment rate because it was so high,” Blackburn said.

One year later, the average response time—when a call is answered by a person in a call center—is less than 2 minutes, while the abandonment rate is down to a manageable 3 percent. And, importantly, the call center doesn’t block any veteran’s calls anymore.

Spearheaded by the VE wing in collaboration with about two dozen members of the U.S. Digital Service, VA has also introduced MyVA311, a single phone number (1-844-MyVA311), Blackburn said. Vets can call the toll-free number to figure out which of the nearly 1,000 VA phone numbers they actually need.

“We used to have 975 1-800 numbers,” said Blackburn, noting vets often had to memorize a half-dozen or more phone numbers to receive the care they needed. “That’s just absolutely insane.”

Comments
JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.