During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised veterans a 24-hour hotline that would consolidate the various national help lines and call centers to help veterans. Two years later, the hotline is up and running, but a Sunday evening report by the Washington Post detailed the bureaucratic hell veterans looking for help often find.
The staffers tasked with answering the phones are often helpless to solve the callers’ problems, per the Post:
To Mary, so many of the problems felt fixable, if only they had the powers, or permission, to fix them.
“There was this man,” she said as she waited for the phone to ring again. “And he just wanted a seat for his wheelchair. He said, ‘I don’t want a new wheelchair. I don’t want pain medication. I just want a seat that doesn’t pinch me and hurt me.
“And he had been trying for seven months, and he couldn’t get it. I hate that. Those are the ones you want to say, ‘All right, give me your address, and I’ll send you a seat.’ ”
Agents field a wide range of problems, from questions about medical bills and health issues to psychological trauma and sexual assault. But staffers told the paper they’re often unable to do much for callers beyond typing out their complaints and routing them to different departments across the country:
“We’re going to try to get you some help,” Mary said to the man on her line now, an Air Force veteran who had erroneously received a bill for $350.18. He did not have $350.18.
But still, she could not make the $350.18 bill go away.
She could not see why it was sent. She could not access benefits or medical records, even with the man’s permission. She wasn’t allowed to call his provider. All she could do was type his problem and send it to a different team in a different place that would respond in approximately 60 business days, if it responded on time.
Still, perhaps most bizarrely, some veterans have called the hotline just want to let Trump know he’s doing a great job:
Some veterans have become hotline evangelists, spreading the good news about Trump’s idea in private Facebook groups where veterans gather by the thousands to swap tips on navigating VA. The agency said 609 people have called to compliment the hotline’s performance.
Now so many veterans called thinking they were reaching 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that Mary had the White House switchboard number memorized. The callers wanted to tell “my boy Donald” he was doing a great job. They wanted to say they liked Mr. Robert Wilkie. They wanted to know whether Mary could run down the hall to see if the Omaha steaks they had mailed to the president had arrived.
What’s clear is that there are no small number of people in this country who need help. But the idea that Trump’s initiatives will be effective or helpful in any real way is a collective delusion.