WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials will open a third call center for the Veterans Crisis Line in Kansas in coming weeks, a move that’s expected to add about 100 new personnel to the emergency response service.

The new office will be located in Topeka on the campus of VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System. More than 500 staffers currently operate the around-the-clock hotline out of locations in New York and Georgia.

“When it comes to preventing Veteran suicide, we will do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for veterans to reach us,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a statement. “The new center in Topeka gives us more feet on the ground and an easier way for veterans to connect with us when they need us most.”

Shulkin has repeatedly said suicide prevention is his top clinical priority for the department.

Since its launch in 2007, VA officials said the crisis line has fielded more than 3 million calls and provided emergency intervention for unstable individuals more than 84,000 times. It has also interacted with nearly 440,000 more individuals through chat and text services.

Lawmakers and outside groups have praised the service as an invaluable suicide prevention tool, but its operations have also come under criticism in recent years for failing to keep up with demands.

Last spring, a VA Inspector General report found that more than one-fourth of calls to the hotline were being redirected to other emergency response services because of shortfalls with the VCL system. Shulkin testified before lawmakers shortly thereafter that the problems had been addressed, and nearly all calls are now being handled in-house.

The Senate’s plan for fiscal 2018 VA funding includes a $10 million boost for crisis line operations. VA statistics show roughly 20 veterans a day nationwide commit suicide. Of those, only six are active users of VA services.

In addition to the new center, scheduled to be opened sometime this fall, VA officials are planning to update phone systems at department centers and outpatient clinics to allow for automatic transfers of calls from distressed veterans to the hotline.

To contact the Veteran Crisis Line, callers can dial 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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