Metro-East News

VA assigns new director to crisis line

Less than a week after U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., called for the firings of people connected to the U.S. Veterans Affairs much-maligned Veterans Crisis Line, the VA announced it will shift management of the crisis line to a VA official who successfully fixed the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans.

As of last week, the Veterans Crisis Line reports to Matt Eitutis, the Veterans Health Administration’s acting director for member services, according to a VA announcement.

According to Gibson, Eitutis repaired the homeless veterans line after a 2014 VA inspector general report found a quarter of its calls went to an answering machine.

“That line now is absolutely humming. You don’t see calls being dropped or sent to voice mail,” Gibson said, according to a story Monday in Military Times.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson on Friday visited the Crisis Line for the third time in a year. There Gibson announced the partnership, which includes VA National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention as well as several hubs of expertise, including a Center of Excellence focusing on suicide prevention research and education located at the same medical campus as the Crisis Line responders in Canandaigua, NY.

The improvements will enhance and accelerate progress at the Veterans Crisis Line, which serves as a life-saving resource for veterans who find themselves at risk of suicide, the VA said.

In his letter a week ago to VA Secretary Bob McDonald critical of the VA’s handling of the crisis line, Kirk cited his position as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the VA in calling for the firing of the department mental health director.

Kirk demanded the resignation of Dr. Mary Schohn, the VA mental health director. On Monday, however, several news media confirmed Schohn retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs in April of 2014.

A spokeswoman for Kirk's office apologized for the error, but released a statement confirming Kirk’s determination to hold officials responsible for failures at the VA.

    “The culture of corruption at the VA means consistently protecting those responsible for failing our vets and the taxpayers,” the statement said. "Every person who oversaw the hotline for the past nine years should be fired because the GAO and VA OIG (Office of Inspector General) have repeatedly noted the crisis line's failure.”

    Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000