Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
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.”
In February, the commander of the U.S. Naval Air Forces proclaimed that the Navy's F-35C Joint Strike Fighter was "ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win" — even though the Navy's own testing data says otherwise.
A Medal of Honor recipient from Michigan will have a guided-missile destroyer named after him, the United States Navy announced on Monday.
New report claims US could be guilty of war crimes in Somalia for killing civilians under 'shroud of secrecy'
The U.S. military could be guilty of war crimes in Somalia, according to a new report that challenges what the government says about civilian casualties from its bombing campaign against al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliate, in the African nation.
The investigation, conducted by Amnesty International, found that US airstrikes from both drones and manned aircraft killed at least 14 civilians and injured seven more people in just five of more than 100 strikes in the past two years.
"The attacks appear to have violated international humanitarian law, and some may amount to war crimes," the Amnesty report said.
A new bill would give troops with infertility related to their military service greater access to advanced reproductive treatments, including up to three completed cycles of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and cryopreservation of eggs and sperm for those heading to a combat zone.
The Marine Corps' top general on the west coast is readying his Marines for the next big war against a near peer competitor, and one of his main concerns is figuring out how to alter the mindset of troops that have been fighting insurgencies since 9/11.
"If anything my problem is getting people out of the mindset of [counterterrorism] and making sure they're thinking about near peer adversaries in their training programs," Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, California, told Task & Purpose in an interview on Friday.