Isakson joins VA secretary to announce new Veterans Crisis Line call center in Atlanta
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, yesterday discussed the need to pass his Veterans First Act – a comprehensive bill that will improve veterans’ health care and benefits and increase accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – during the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) national convention in Atlanta, Ga.
Isakson was joined by VA Secretary Robert McDonald at a “service and legislation” seminar to discuss legislative solutions to improve services for veterans. The pair also announced that the VA will be opening a new Veterans Crisis Line call center in Atlanta, Ga., bringing more than 200 jobs to the Atlanta area and contributing over $25 million to the local economy in its first year.
“There’s got to be reform at the VA,” said Isakson during Sunday’s panel discussion. “Veterans’ services have to be more accessible and seamless, and the Veterans First Act does that. One of the problems that VA leadership has had is the inability to affect change at the agency and have the type of accountability of the agency’s management that they really need. Under the Veterans First Act, senior management will be held accountable for the leadership that they give to the more than 300,000 other employees at the VA.”
The Veterans First Act expands the VA’s caregivers program, which allows veterans to receive care in their own homes from loved ones. It creates a pilot program to help veterans get a more expeditious answer on disability claims appeals. It also includes a number of measures to increase access to mental health care for veterans.
“The Veterans First Act is a major bill that contains 144 provisions, including many that were introduced in Congress by Republicans and Democrats,” Isakson continued. “It gives the secretary what he needs in terms of the hiring and firing authority of senior management; it gives veterans who served in wars prior to 9/11 to get the same caregiver benefits that post-9/11 veterans have had; it gives whistleblowers the protection they need to tell when something’s going wrong; and it gives the VA the clout to make a difference. We’re going to see to it that veterans get the services they need.”
Isakson praised the VA’s decision to expand its Veterans Crisis Line services to improve access to care for veterans in need of immediate attention. The call center will serve as a backup center to the first Veterans Crisis Line location in Canandaigua, N.Y., which has been overwhelmed by calls from veterans seeking help.
“One of my top priorities as chairman has been to see to it that those in need of help for mental health services, particularly those at risk for taking their own lives by suicide, have instant access to the VA and the type of services they need to save their lives,” said Isakson. “They gave us everything when we needed it, and we owe the same thing to them. The call center that will be established in Atlanta later this year will see to it that every veteran, when they dial the phone, they get someone on the other end who knows what to tell them and how to advise them.”
Video from the full DAV panel can be viewed online here.