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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.”
The Marine lieutenant colonel who was removed from command of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May is accused of lying to investigators looking into allegations of misconduct, according to a copy of his charge sheet provided to Task & Purpose on Monday.
President Donald Trump just can't stop telling stories about former Defense Secretary James Mattis. This time, the president claims Mattis said U.S. troops were so perilously low on ammunition that it would be better to hold off launching a military operation.
"You know, when I came here, three years ago almost, Gen. Mattis told me, 'Sir, we're very low on ammunition,'" Trump recalled on Monday at the White House. "I said, 'That's a horrible thing to say.' I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that's what he told me because we were in a position with a certain country, I won't say which one; we may have had conflict. And he said to me: 'Sir, if you could, delay it because we're very low on ammunition.'
"And I said: You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general," Trump continued. "No president should ever, ever hear that statement: 'We're low on ammunition.'"
This 400-pound feral hog is one of more than 1,200 that have invaded a Texas Air Force base since 2016
At least one Air Force base is waging a slow battle against feral hogs — and way, way more than 30-50 of them.
A Texas trapper announced on Monday that his company had removed roughly 1,200 feral hogs from Joint Base San Antonio property at the behest of the service since 2016.
In a move that could see President Donald Trump set foot on North Korean soil again, Kim Jong Un has invited the U.S. leader to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, as the North's Foreign Ministry said it expected stalled nuclear talks to resume "in a few weeks."
A letter from Kim, the second Trump received from the North Korean leader last month, was passed to the U.S. president during the third week of August and came ahead of the North's launch of short-range projectiles on Sept. 10, the South's Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.
In the letter, Kim expressed his willingness to meet the U.S. leader for another summit — a stance that echoed Trump's own remarks just days earlier.
Constant deployments broke the Air Force's B-1 fleet. Now the service is facing a major bomber shortfall
On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.
In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.
A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.
The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.