Every once in a while things make sense. Unfortunately for my journey into the world of the Veterans Administration, that once in a while has not happened yet.
You may recall from my last post that two seemingly unrelated and paradoxical events occurred that centered around my VA disability claim. Within the span of a single week I first received a telephone call to invite me to an appointment at the local veterans hospital, which I took as an augury that my claim was turgidly stumbling forward, and I secondly found out that my claim was marked “CLOSED” on the VA’s ebenefits website (which is the interface that veterans use to access their VA benefits information: ebenefits.va.gov ).
One step forward and a huge leap back? To say I was confused would be a gross disservice to the concept of understatement.
At any rate, I showed up for the appointment earlier this week and learned a little more about how the various processes at the VA work, or at least are supposed to work.
Unbeknownst to me, my appointment was based on the interview that the VA social worker had conducted on the day I officially became a consumer of VA health benefits. The survey identified some items in my history that required further evaluation, and the appointment that I attended a few days ago was one of those items (in this case, it was for a Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, evaluation that was warranted because of my close proximity to noisy exploding things while in Iraq).
Fast forward to earlier this week. I checked into the medical center, and after filling out yet another questionnaire about various things related to my mental state I was called to see the doctor. After a brief introduction, I followed her through the physical therapy section of the hospital to a small office tucked away behind the treadmills and medicine balls.
I spent the next 45 minutes or so answering questions about the noisy things that exploded in my vicinity and the possible effects that they could have on me these many years later. She then performed a series of physical examinations. After getting whacked on the knee and following her finger with my eyes and a dozen or so other tests she announced that I was unlikely to be suffering from any long term effects of getting my bell rung in combat. “Maybe a slight concussion,” said she, “but you seem fine to me. Any questions?”
Ahhh. Finally. I did have a question or two.
I inquired as to the purpose of my visit. Was I here for a disability related evaluation? I explained my confusion, and she gave me the patient smile of someone who has explained this to people a time or two before.
“No. This exam is based on the social worker’s evaluation from the VA clinic. It has nothing to do with the disability claim process.”
She saw my blank and vacuous stare, and continued.
“We don’t have anything to do with claims. The systems are completely separate. If they want, they can access the records of this appointment, but that is up to them. We are the medical side, not the disability claims side of the fence.”
With that bit of insight the lightbulb went on in my head. Suddenly I understood why the two events that had occurred a month previously had confused me: I mistakenly thought that I was dealing with one agency when in fact I was dealing with two. And neither of them talks to each other.
How governmentally bureaucratic!
The medical side had set the appointment, and it was proof positive that the system (or at least their half of it) worked.
The claims side, on the other hand, clearly had something wrong.
With that shocking bit of knowledge, I set out to find out just what was amiss with my disability claim. I called the toll-free number for the VA. Not once. Not twice. Not three times.
I won’t bore you with how many times I pounded the keys on my phone trying to reach a VA counselor, but after many fruitless attempts I resorted to calling at 5:20 in the morning in an effort to get through. It worked. After waiting on hold for nearly 30 minutes, I finally found myself at last in contact with a real live VA person!
I explained my dilemma to the gentleman, and he looked into it. Apparently the ebenefits website was depicting the results of the most recent review that my case file had received and was incorrectly showing my status as closed. What had occurred was that my file was being reconciled to determine what still remained to be done, and once that reconciliation was completed that review was posted as closed.
For whatever reason (which the VA rep could not explain) the ebenefits site “sometimes” picks up the wrong status. I was one of the lucky few to fall in the wonderful world of “sometimes”. Fortunately, my case was still open. The status on the website was wrong. Unfortunately, there was also no indicator of progress in my case, so it really didn’t matter what the website said. I was still going nowhere fast, but apparently I am making good time.
Sensing my consternation, the VA rep offered to initiate an inquiry. The inquiry, he explained, means that someone in the office that held my claim would have to call me within the next ten working days to explain what was going on.
Hooray! All I have to do now is wait for the phone to ring and then I will be able to talk to somebody who can explain just what is happening with my disability claim.
All I have to do is wait.
1. The VA medical system and the VA disability claims system are two unrelated and unintegrated silos. They each are performing their own important mission, but they do so independent of each other. Make sure to find out which side of the fence your appointments fall on, or you will end up confused like I did by assuming that a medical appointment was for my disability claim or vice versa.
2. Calling the VA during working hours is pointless and annoying. There is supposedly a callback feature that you can use if you call after working hours, but I could never get it to work. I resorted to calling early in the morning, right about the time that the call center opens, which is listed as 7:00 am Eastern time. The number is 800-827-1000. Good luck!!
3. Write everything down, including the inquiry tracking number and the name of the person that you talked to. It will be useful later on in case the inquiry gets lost or the information that you received turns out to be erroneous.