Thousands of homeless veterans who tried to reach the Department of Veterans Affairs national call center seeking treatment or shelter had  to leave messages on answering machines and never received a referral or medical services, a new report by an independent watchdog found.

According to a report Thursday by the VA inspector general, more than 21,000 homeless veterans in fiscal 2013 were not able to get through to a VA counselor, while more than 3,000 were not referred to a VA medical facility, despite providing all the necessary information.

The call center relied on answering machines, instead of counselors, and the VA inspector general said it “could not account for a significant amount of the counselors’ time.”

As a result, the VA inspector general “identified 40,500 missed opportunities in which the call center either did not refer the homeless veterans’ calls to medical facilities or it closed referrals without ensuring homeless veterans had received needed services from VA medical facilities.”

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