Are you frustrated by your experience calling the Department of Veterans Affairs? There are tips for calling VA.gov that can help dramatically improve your experience.
Calling the Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-827-1000 can be frustrating, and the VA is well aware–a 2010 Inspector General Report on VA call center issues not only mentions that any single call made to this hotline had less than a 50% chance of reaching an agent.
How bad was the VA call system at this time? That same Inspector General report includes a report heading stating that the VA “Needs to Improve the Accuracy of Call Centers”.
What follows is based on personal experience; any veteran or family member who needs to communicate with the Department of Veterans Affairs should read this article and heed the advice below for best results to maximize your call time with the VA.
The statistic that less than half of the unique calls to the VA get properly routed to a live human being may be ten years old, but the same complaints or similar complaints resonate even now at the time of this writing.
Practical Advice BEFORE Calling The VA.Gov Phone Number
The first thing you should do before calling the VA at 1-800 827-1000? Do your homework. Anticipate spending a long time on hold before talking to a representative, so don’t waste your phone call asking for general information. Whatever issue you need assistance with, research it first on the VA official site.
Go To VA.gov First
Many newcomers to the VA mistakenly try to call the VA to get information on payment rates, amounts, requirements, or application procedures–we say “mistakenly” because those who call first will sit on hold for a LONG time to get information they could get in the same duration of time they would spend on hold by using the VA.gov official site to search for submission procedures, claims, payment rates, etc.
Use A Veterans Service Organization (VSO)
“But what about people who get easily confused, don’t use the internet much, or just can’t access online information?” This is a good question and fortunately the answer is fairly simple. If you cannot or don’t use the internet to obtain information, you can get faster help than by calling the VA by using a VSO to help you with your dealings with the VA.
A VSO can be a state veterans affairs office, the USO, the VFW, DAV, or American Legion just to name a few. All of these agencies offer assistance for veterans who need help with VA benefits and it may be wise to contact them first to get assistance. You can Google the phrase “Veteran Service Organization” to find plenty of options.
Review Your Online Records
You or your VSO helper should definitely plan to look at your records online via the Department of Veterans Affairs portals such as DS Logon, My HealtheVet, or ID.me. You will want to review and download any applicable VA benefit letters or other relevant information you may need on your call.
Examples of information in this area you may need to provide on the phone to your VA rep include your service dates, prior VA decisions about your benefits, any VA disability rating you have or anticipate having, etc. Have the information relevant to your question or issue that requires a call to the VA ready for the day you call them.
Update Your Records Before Calling If Possible
The Department of Veterans Affairs has no way of independently knowing that a caller has gotten married, has had a change in disability status or has otherwise had changes that require an update of your records in the VA system.
When preparing for your call, you or your VSO should review your records to make sure all the most up-to-date addresses, phone numbers, marital status, and other details are as current as possible. In some cases, your phone call to the VA may be to request assistance with an issue specifically related to such updates; if this applies to you, you may need to call the VA first (in contradiction to the other advice given here) to resolve those specific issues.
Practical Advice For Calling The Department of Veterans Affairs At 1-800-827-1000
The advice we gave above for using your speakerphone or a headset while sitting on hold waiting for a VA rep? Do not consider that advice for dealing with the actual call. When you get to speak to a live human at the VA, do NOT use the speakerphone–use a headset or the regular phone mic to communicate. Do not call the VA in crowded, noisy areas. Why?
Two reasons. One is that you’ll have invested enough time waiting on hold with the VA that you won’t want to risk the quality of your conversation with the VA to be compromised with too much noise.
The other reason is that you will likely be required to provide private data such as your Social Security Number, date of birth, etc. You do NOT want to be doing your business with the VA within earshot of other people. Never mind how rude it is to talk personal business like this in public, your ability to have your identity compromised or stolen is much higher when you don’t keep these calls private and behind closed doors.
These tips are crucial to the effectiveness of our other advice below.
Tip #1: Anticipate long hold times: This means for best results, expect to use your speaker phone or a headset while waiting on hold. The LAST thing you want to do is to sit in your living room for 45 minutes with a cell phone pressed against your face.
It’s uncomfortable and will make you more angry the longer you wait on hold. The comfort of using the speaker or headset isn’t the only element here, the freedom to do other things while you wait on hold will also enhance your experience.
Tip #2: Write out your questions: Make a list of the things you need to know and do NOT rely on your memory. Remember, every time you have to call back, your on-hold waiting time starts all over again. Get the most out of your call by planning it carefully.
Those who don’t write out their questions often wind up hanging up after a long VA call suddenly realizing they neglected to ask a very important question. Preparation counts.
Tip #3: Ask simple and direct questions: Do NOT tell the VA representative your life story. Don’t explain where you served and when and how and why…UNLESS it is RELEVANT to your specific VA needs.
The VA rep is not there to listen to people reminisce about their military service. Be direct, be concise, and understand that your time may be limited. There are others waiting in the same line you waited in to talk to a VA representative.
Tip #4: Explain what you specifically want in as precise terms as possible: “I have a headache” is not helpful to a doctor. “I have a headache-like pain in the center of my forehead that began after a night of too much partying” is far more helpful. And in the context of your VA phone call, that level of precision will help.
“I need help with my GI Bill” is not as effective as “I applied for GI Bill benefits and my school says there is a specific problem with my benefits” is MUCH BETTER.
Tip #5: Expect Delays: Once you have gotten off hold with the VA and are talking to an actual human person, you may find that that representative has to transfer you to another person who knows more about your issue.
Your VA rep may be a new hire, a trainee, or someone who has transferred to the call center from another department and you might not be talking to a subject matter expert right away.
This is common, anticipate it and try not to let it make you upset. This is one reason why it can be VERY helpful to enlist the help of a Veteran Service Organization–these people have a great deal of experience dealing with the VA and issues like these–they can help save you a great deal of time through the benefit of their experience with how the system works.
Tip #6 Sometimes, Timing Counts: This means two very different things depending on context. In general, you may want to try calling the VA hotline at off-peak times. Early in the morning is better than later in the day depending on circumstances, but try not to call over lunch hours, immediately after work, etc.
Try to find “the sweet spot” for calling the VA when call volumes may be lower. Timing also counts when trying to change certain benefits by phone. If you need to make changes to a direct deposit account, it is far better to call before the 15th of the month if you need those funds to hit your account on the 1st of the next month. The VA has deadlines for submission to the U.S. Treasury Department and if you miss those deadlines, there’s nothing the VA can do to hurry the funds to you.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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