Wednesday, June 05, 2013

VA Records: Setting up an Appointment to Get a Phone Call to Set up an Appointment to Order Records .... Or Something

I'm not some kind of anti-gummint crazy person, but I can understand how people can feel more than a little cranky sometimes when office procedures don't seem to make any sense.
Monday I went to the downtown Seattle VA office to meet with a Vietnam-era veteran who was having problems over a claim for compensation for an injury received back in the 1960s. The outstanding question was whether he'd included that particular injury on a claim filed in the 1990s; the VA was saying it had no record of it, he pointed out that was because (A) while the records were in VA custody a warehouse fire destroyed them and (B) nonetheless he had a document clearly referencing the claim so under the balance of evidence, the claim should be sustained (cuz all the existing evidence favors the veteran AND any lack of evidence is the fault of the VA).
But before I try to help this guy out, I want to see a clean copy of all the documents. I'm not saying anyone is trying to fool anyone, but stuff gets lost, filtered or sorted, and the best course is to go back as far as possible and look at the most original data available. This is true in just about every field, not just the law.
So we're at the VA office and ask to look at his file; we knew this wasn't going to happen today but wanted to get the process started. We were told that a FOIA request would take 4 months to process. Well ok, might as well get started; how would we start. We were told that we needed to make an appointment. Well ok, how do we do that? We were told we needed to request the appointment and someone would call us to set up the appointment. Well ok, when were we going to get the call? We were told it would be sometime within the next three days.
Well, ok.
So in other words, by close of business Thursday we should get a call to set up an appointment to talk to someone about filing forms that will let us see a file in four months.
I'm not some kind of anti-gummint whack-a-doodle. But in the private sector, I can look my bank records online; they *encourage* me to use online inquiry so that it's more convenient for me and takes less effort from their staff. This is how VA records and government records in general should be set up.
I appreciate that it's not this way because Congress hasn't told the Executive Branch to do it this way. Also, I strongly suspect (based on a little experience proposing software to the government) that if Congress *did* tell the Executive Branch to do it this way, there would be a huge battle between contractors to skim off 75% of the proceeds while delivering the minimum product necessary; or perhaps delivering nothing because the job of contractors is not to serve the public but to collect taxpayer funds.
Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the phone call that will lead to setting up an appointment to see about filing paperwork to get a copy of the file. I'll let you know what happens next.

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