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VA Crisis Hotline Puts Suicidal Chicago Vet On Hold

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Every day 22 veterans kill themselves, and every day some of them reach out for help. But recently, as CBS 2's Jim Williams reports, that help wasn't there when they needed it most.

Chicagoan Dedra Clady, an Army veteran, honorably discharged, was facing unemployment and mounting bills and the haunting memory of a sexual assault that happened shortly before she joined the service.

Clady said her family made her feel like it was her fault, making her think there was only one way out.

"I went to my kitchen, retrieved a small knife went back to my living room, sat on the floor and contemplated slitting my wrist," she said.

Clady, desperate, called the Veterans Crisis Hot Line. She said she was put on hold twice and insists an agent was never put on the line.

"I'm in need of help and there's no one here," she said.

It's a story all too familiar to veterans' advocates.

"When somebody needs help, the help has to be there," said Bruce Parry of the Coalition of Veterans Organizations.
Parry has been complaining about problems with the crisis line for two years. His group sent a letter to Washington D.C. urging immediate action.

"We wonder how many people died while we're doing investigations over a two year period?" he said.

During the hot line's peak hours, a veteran in crisis could get transferred to another facility that handles overflow calls. Critics say that's when a lot of the problems start.

"In some cases veterans didn't get an answer, the phone wasn't answered and in some cases the responder was not properly trained," Parry said.

Allegations confirmed in a recent inspector general's report.

"What they've seen is astronomical growth in the number of calls that are coming in and I don't think they've expanded at the rate that it needs to be expanded," Parry said.

With the help of friends and a church group, Clady recovered. Today, she has a good job, but she wants other veterans to get help when the need it most.

"I felt helpless," she said.

Parry urged that the Veteran Administration hire more staff for the crisis hotline and that's exactly what the VA told us it's doing. As well, the VA says it'll upgrade the phone system, vowing that by the year's end every veteran in crisis will have their call answered promptly by an experienced responder.

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