In today’s world of technology, communications systems are faster than a speeding bullet. Billions of pieces of data are searched with the click of a mouse, and presto-bingo your results are at your fingertips in 1.3 seconds.
Rotary phones, party lines, telegrams, manual typewriters and carbon paper were once our premiere means of communication, but are now considered fossils and are displayed in museums as relics of days gone by. Look how far we have come. There was no charge for friendly operator assistance, and today we have automated phone systems that prohibit human contact no matter how many times you press “0”. Must be one of the hidden costs of progress.
We have become an internet connected global community who rely on high-tech information sharing systems via you-tube, Yahoo news, text me, I-Pods, E-bay shopping, My Space, Google it, Face Book and Can you “Digg” it?
With all the advancements that have been made over the past couple of decades simplifying our lives yet challenging us to figure out how to communicate with these new gadgets, there are some who saw a way to make sure there would be NO sharing of information and created systems that were in a word, not “user” friendly and saw no need for tech support.
The VA took all this technology and built a fortress designed to pass as an actual “informational system” based off the model of a maze that really does not have an exit, and rather than write it in code, they wrote it in legalese just in case someone managed to penetrate the system. In all fairness, it is a government agency and “Top Secret” information needs to be protected from the masses – especially the veterans and their families. Totally understandable.
Did you know that the VA has a “Smart” phone and fax system? How clever is this? The minute you pick up the phone to dial the VA’s 800# the system recognizes the area code you are calling from, the first 3 prefixes of your phone number and routes your call to the nearest call center physically located to you. In the event that call center is extremely busy, (can’t imagine that) it will “smartly” route you the next closest call center and so on until your call goes into queue waiting for “assistance”.
Here is where it gets even better. The person that you finally connect with is on a time limit for how long they can stay on the phone with you. They don’t have time to listen to your hour long story that you have probably already told countless times, or how frustrated you are that you can’t get an answer, or the answer is completely different from the last one you got. Misinformation is an important component to this equation resulting in confusion, exasperation and giving up.
Every VSR (VA Service Rep) in all the 57 VA centers across the country are mandated to process 70+ calls a day. Otherwise they are penalized for under -performing. It is important to be able to justify the call volume and be able to say that the center is effectively handling and processing all inquiries. Don’t be confused that this has anything to do with actually helping 70+ veterans or family members. That is not the intent of the system. Remember it is about not sharing.
To take this to the next level, the person you are speaking with does not have an extension or direct number, so in the event you have to call back, and depending on where the “Smart” phone system directs your call this time, you get to start all over with someone who is way behind on their daily quota and tell your story to someone else. “If” they pull up your file and, depending on how good of notes were entered the last time you called, it can lead to a heated debate that you won’t win. Not that you aren’t smart enough to win, but the system was not designed for that outcome.
The VA implemented and paid for a “Mystery Caller” program in 2002 and again in 2004. The person performing the investigation made 1,089 calls to assess accuracy of information being given, professionalism, and courtesy.
As a standard the results when combined totaled 43% of answers given that were either mostly or completely wrong. That was after two years of the VA providing training to its employees.
The study actually showed that rather than improving over the dismal ratings of the ‘02 survey, in spite of the 2 years of additional training that ‘04’s survey ranked even lower in most categories. Sounds like a plan well executed.
Did you know that if you call the VA’s 800 number from a different state than where you filed for any benefit from the VA, that the call center you reach will tell you that they don’t have access to the file because you didn’t file in the state you are calling from? It’s a little confusing – read it again.
Remember we are in the technological age of information, so this response is an outright lie. The truth is that VSR will be in a lot of trouble for spending time on a call that is not being processed by their regional office. They can pull the file up, but they are not going to. They won’t offer to transfer you to the office where the file is being processed. They will say they don’t have that capability and cannot provide you with a direct number.
If you get lucky as I did while standing in the state of FL trying to call the VA regarding my mother’s application for Aid and Attendance, which I filed for in the state of Virginia where I live, you might get one of the brighter bulbs who suggested that since my cell phone was an (804) area code that I try calling the 800# from that phone. She informed me that calling from the line I was using was going to continually route me back to the Tampa Clearwater, FL VA office. Now all I had to do was try and figure out which cell tower in Tallahassee, FL was going to know that my mother had been transferred to Hospice, and that I needed the signal to be pinged to a cell tower in Virginia.
Given that you can’t physically go through a phone and smack somebody upside the head, I opted for another option. I relied on some dated technology and called 411 and said that I needed a non 800# for the VA office located on Franklin Street in Roanoke, VA to which she was able to provide the number that the VSR was unable to.
I immediately got through to someone to whom I explained the urgency and circumstances to. He took a deep breath, sighed, and gave me a phone number saying, “You did not get this number from me”, and hung up.
The gentleman who answered the phone of the number I was given was less than thrilled to hear from me, and I believe that the only thing he was focused on was trying to found out who the traitor was. I’m sure the security breach was noted.