My late big brother Mark did many great things in his far too short life. News headlines the other day reminded me of one of his notable selfless acts back when he was a student at Western Michigan University.

He saw a growing problem with fellow students having difficulty handling the pressures of college life with nowhere to turn for help. So Mark took it upon himself to dig up a little grant money and start a crisis intervention hotline, staffed by trained student volunteers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I remember the stories, especially the ones of students who felt they just couldn't take it anymore and believed suicide was the only answer. Mark said those calls could last hours, until the student volunteers finally convinced the distressed students that suicide was not the answer.

Fellow students helping students.

Volunteers. Kids. With very little money.

This all came back to me and further fueled my anger, disbelief and disgust when I saw the headline: “Calls to VA suicide line got voice mail.”

This was not some sick joke, though it sounded like one.

It was another sick example of the way the Department of Veterans Affairs has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars and failed our veterans.

This is a suicide hotline and yet the VA inspector general report said, “We substantiated allegations that some calls routed to backup crisis centers were answered by voice mail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance.”

In other words, a bunch of kids with no money, 40 years ago at Western Michigan University figured out how to help their own, while the VA still can't figure out how to save America's heroes.

Paul W. Smith is host of “The Paul W. Smith Show” on WJR-AM (760) from 5:30-9 a.m. Monday-Friday.

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