Tampa, Fla. (CBS TAMPA) — An Air Force veteran says he was repeatedly put on hold by the Veterans Suicide Hotline, as he was forced to listen to machine recordings and get re-directed as he sat there “desperately needing someone to talk to” on Saturday night.

Ted Koran says the only reason he’s still alive today is because of the 60 rescue animals he cares for, WFTS-TV reports. The Air Force veteran first reached out to the James Haley VA Center in Tampa, where a recording told him the 800 number for the suicide hotline. He says was initially put on hold for 10 minutes, before hanging up and redialing the number two more times.

“I went to the only place that I knew and that I had available to me, the VA,” Koran told WFTS. “I had to sit there patiently, in emotional distress, in tears, wanting to give up, desperately needing someone to talk to.”

“I was missing my wife,” he said.

Koran’s wife Karen, who he adopted the 60 rescue animals with, died of cancer six months ago and his depression on Saturday evening sank him to the point he was considering taking his own life. Koran said it took several attempts to get a real person on the suicide hotline after repeatedly being put on hold – and even then the counselor was of little comfort to him.

“They had me on the [verge] of saying to hell with it,” he said. “The very ones that are supposed to be there for me let me down.”

More than 1,000 veterans contact that hotline every day. According to Veterans Affairs data released earlier this year, 22 veterans take their own life every day, or about every 65 minutes.

The Veterans Crisis Hotline was first established by the VA in 2007, at which point it averaged 60 calls a day on four phone lines with personnel. However today, 52 operators field more than 1,000 calls each day, and say they can’t keep up with growing calls for help from veterans. A Scripps investigation recently uncovered that calls to the veterans’ hotline often overload the system, forcing the veterans to be put on hold as calls are rerouted to other call centers.

One veteran showed WFTS a recording in which he was put on hold for 36 minutes.

The VA says they’re hoping new technology and more funding from Congress will allow them to fix their current overload problems within the next six months.

“We’re asking for more staff and better technology,” the director of the call center told Scripps.

Koran told WFTS he’s lucky his rescue animals came to his own rescue.

“My wife and I saved them, and they saved me,” Tom Koran said. “My warriors, my heroes.”

Benjamin Fearnow

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