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I Called The New White House Veterans’ Complaint Line. Here’s How It Went
Yesterday, in his first “state of the VA” address, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin promised reporters that the White House’s planned veterans’ complaint hotline would be up and running June 1. Indeed, the number — 855-948-2311 — went live this morning, and as a journalist and Marine veteran, I figured I’d give it a ring.
I didn’t have any specific complaints to lodge — beyond the usual vet gripes — but was curious who might lurk on the other end of that line, what questions and concerns they might face, and how they’d prepared for the coming onslaught.
Having dealt with VA in the past, I expected a 15 to 20 minute wait, or longer, interrupted by a few dizzying leaps from extension to extension and some bad hold music, before finally reaching an overworked operator.
That didn’t happen. After about two minutes, I was speaking with Carlos Robinson, an Army veteran who’s worked at the VA for the last 17 years, handling calls and assisting veterans with their claims. After forking over my first and last name, Social Security number, and period of service, I confessed that I wasn’t lodging a complaint. “I wanted to know who was on the other end of the line,” I said, “and why.”
But first, Robinson had to get through some basic talking points. The hotline, he said, was established by President Donald Trump to assist veterans with specific VA-related concerns. The VA reps on the other end of the phone were there to get vets answers to their questions and concerns within two weeks.
Once that spiel was out of the way, we just talked.
Robinson started out doing this kind of work at a VA center in Louisiana, manning its phones in the late ’90s. He’s spent a number of years as that first point of contact for vets and their families, and when he heard about the new hotline, he volunteered.
“I wanted to actively do something to show some results for veterans,” he told me.
Robinson said he and the other operators, half of whom are vets like him, had quite a few calls by the time I rang, around 10:30 a.m. EDT: Robinson had responded to a few complaints and at least one veteran who, well, he wasn’t described as being angry, but he was ready to speak his mind. Which is probably fair, considering it’s a complaint line.
Most of the calls had been specialized inquiries based on a veteran’s disabilities, or came from those who were interested in hearing more about specific VA programs available to them, Robinson said.
“I have a pretty good background for this, and it doesn’t hurt that I’m a veteran, also,” he said.
The hotline’s birth, VA Secretary Shulkin made clear yesterday, is a soft launch, and it cost roughly $190,000 to set up, according to Military Times. The line will be fully staffed with 24/7 live operators by mid-August, Shulkin said.
Before hanging up, I asked Robinson about the rumor that President Trump might pop in to take a call.
“I don’t think that has happened as of this morning,” Robinson chuckled, before adding, more seriously this time that “he can pop in, though.”
North Korea threatens to resume nuclear weapons and ICBM tests if US-South Korea military exercises proceed
SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.
Customs and Border Patrol denied a Marine vet entry into the US for his a scheduled citizenship interview
A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.
Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.
Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.
U.S. Special Operations Command may be on the verge of making the dream of flying infantry soldiers a reality, but the French may very well beat them to it.
On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron shared an unusual video showing a man on a flying platform — widely characterized as a "hoverboard" — maneuvering through the skies above the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris armed with what appears to be a dummy firearm.
The video was accompanied with a simple message of "Fier de notre armée, moderne et innovante," which translates to "proud of our army, modern and innovative," suggesting that the French Armed Forces may be eyeing the unusual vehicle for potential military applications.
A lawmaker wants to know if the Pentagon ever exposed the American public to ticks infected with bioweapons
If you've ever wondered if the Pentagon has ever exposed the American public to ticks infected with biological weapons, you're not alone.
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) authored an amendment to the House version of the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act would require the Defense Department Inspector General's Office to find out if the U.S. military experimented with using ticks and other insects as biological weapons between 1950 and 1975.
If such experiments took place, the amendment would require the inspector general's office to tell lawmakers if any of the ticks or other bugs "were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design."