No, I’m not speaking to the most recent black mark on the VA’s collective resume. The events surrounding General Shinseki’s resignation are low hanging fruit. And anyway, that’s not my area of expertise.
What I want to know is this: when you call the VA’s 800 or 877 number, who can you trust?
My experience is everyone and no one.
The truth is that the customer service representatives responsible for taking your calls are not trained uniformly. If you call the VA twice with the same questions, you should expect two different answers. This outcome is not ideal because, quite often, only one right answer exists.
This uneven training results in bad customer service but, more importantly, a loss of benefits. If one phone operator gives correct information and one gives inaccurate information, the difference between an award letter and a denial may just be luck of the draw. Will you be transferred to an employee who knows the VA’s regulations? Will the employee know the best form to complete?
When you get right down to it, customer service representatives are the face of the VA for many veterans and their families. Applicants never meet the VA employee that adjudicates their case. We most likely don’t speak to the Decision Review Officer reviewing an appeal.
No, the random customer service representative with no last name and no direct phone number too often controls the veteran’s fate. Good luck trying to force some accountability with that kind of anonymous system.
And that’s just one example. Have you ever called the VA to check on the status of a claim? Talk about inefficient data collection. The VA uses multiple “systems” that store different information on the claim. Your claim is not integrated and collected into one database. Often times, uploaded information doesn’t register on a given database. So the VA employee can’t tell you what the VA has and doesn’t have.
What are the practical consequences of multiple databases that don’t efficiently communicate with each other? The applicant or their representative doesn’t know if the VA lost evidence or if the evidence is in the file but unavailable to see. As a result, no one knows whether to resubmit evidence or hope the VA properly processed the submission. This contributes to longer wait times and more denials.
I’ll leave you with this. Last week a VA employee picked up the phone to call me about a hardship case. No, he said, we don’t see the Notice of Disagreement you submitted in December, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have it. Because of the volume of paperwork the VA receives, we sometimes place documents in the wrong file. At that point, he told me, the forms are gone forever.
So who can you trust?