Sunday, April 03, 2011

Adventures in Electronic Bureaucracy

After volunteering as a veterans' advocate for almost nine months, I have four claims in process and still much to learn. I'm pretty sure that I know how to fill out forms and file appeals. What baffles me yet is how to find out what happens to that paperwork once it's delivered to the Veterans Affairs regional office.

When I filed my first FOIA records request, I received a form letter acknowledgment which informed me that meeting my request would take additional time (three months to be exact; the file is four inches thick). I've made three additional FOIA requests and filed an appeal of a disability decision since then with no acknowledgment from the regional office.

Friday morning just after 9:00 am, I called VA's 1-800 claims information number to see what information I could obtain. I was about to head for Coffee Strong for a volunteer shift. I thought it would be good to have current information if any of the veterans whose claims I've filed came in to ask.

Of course, my call went to an automated menu. The first option was for a veteran checking the status of a claim. That wasn't me. I listened carefully to the remaining options but never heard an option that sounded like access for a third party. I pressed "0" to see if I could contact an operator. Not an option, I was told.

So I went back to option one to see where that would take me. All of the sub menu options were for veterans seeking claims information but the system did offer an option to speak to a representative. I chose that option which took me to a recorded message telling me that VA "cannot answer your call at this time. Please call back later." Dead end.

When I came home after my shift, lo and behold, was an envelope from the VA Regional office. I opened it and found VA's acknowledgment of my appointment as a claimant representative for a veteran. The letter directed me to for general information on benefits and to contact VA. That took me to an external redirect page which took me to the VA Inquiry Routing & Information System support page. A link there for checking claim status took me to the 800 number where I started earlier in the day. I already knew where that would end.

The page offered the alternative of using the Contact Us link to ask a question. That took me back to the IRIS support page, which is when I began this post. In the process of writing about the run around, I found a somewhat more prominent ask a question link on the support page that actually led to a question form. I filled it out, which in some cases required selecting options from drop-down menus that were not exactly descriptive of my inquiry. The form did allow me to ask my question as a claimant representative, though. Upon submitting my question, I was promised an answer in five days and, indeed, I have already received an email to that effect.

The process is somewhat frustrating but I have going on 40 years experience dealing with bureaucracies and administrative procedures. It's nothing new. If I were a veteran with PTSD and traumatic brain injury or a family member, I might find all this more than somewhat frustrating.



Blogger cile said...

They should make it so hard to get INTO the service!

12:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home