My own, far less critical, tale of communicating with the VA:
The only benefit I have taken advantage of through the VA has been my home mortgage.
The point is that I have not used, nor do I have any intention to use, my VA health benefits. Or any other VA benefits, aside from the mortgage, unless pressed by circumstances so that the VA is the only avenue left to me. (I don’t need it, and by not using the resource, others in far more need should be able to do so more quickly and easily.)
Every six months or so I get a letter from the VA that explains all my benefits. I don’t need this letter. I know what my benefits are, if I have questions I know how to find out, and, as stated, I don’t plan to use them anyway.
So I thought I’d save the VA some time and money and have myself removed from their mailing list.
I called. The automated phone tree is arcane. I guessed at various options and was finally told that they were closed for the day (hours from 8 am to 5 pm CST M-f—it was 4:45pm).
Tried again a few days later, earlier. When I did get through to people, they told me that they were the wrong person to help, and no they didn’t know who was.
I e-mailed. The menu options on the e-mail page is almost as arcane. I made my bet guesses and sent the message into the ether. Received a reply a few days later that they were the wrong department to help me.
On the reply message is a place to put a counter reply and mail it back, so I did that, asking if they could direct me to the right office, expecting the answer, “We don’t know.” Instead I got a bounce message.
This one came from the VA and not some mail router along the way, and said that my message could not be accepted because the address in my message header didn’t match the address that the VA had on file for me.
The Army is in the process of making changes to its e-mail systems and my address had changed, from [me]@us.army.mil to [me]@beta.army.mil. So I logged into the VA system and changed my on file e-mail address and then resent the message.
If anyone isn’t aware, I work in IT in the civilian world. So I’m a little more savvy on these problems and how to fix them than John Q. Public or PVT Joe Snuffy. The next one still has me baffled. I got another bounce message.
This one said that my mail browser’s S\MIME encryption didn’t match what was expected, to fix that and retry the send. S\MIME is an e-mail encryption, public, that is updated from time to time—I usually get some kind of notice….
I went ahead and updated S\MIME. The message still bounced and for the same reason. No idea what to do.
So here’s the point. This whole system is designed, it seems to me, to prevent Veterans from communicating with the VA. As I pointed out, I’m a bit better equipped to handle the technical part of this, imagine some Korean War or Vietnam veteran, though, who hates computers trying to make sense of these issues.
The problems with the VA are systemic. Until that’s realized, and until they are willing to tear the whole thing down, they will never fix it.
An organization you should consider supporting: Veterans for a Strong America