HAMPTON, Va. — Some veterans said it takes "an act of God" to get through to the person they're trying to call at the Hampton V.A. Medical Center. They reached out to 13News Now for help because they believe they're getting the run-around on the center's phone system.
We went through the call process with one local vet, who said she's spent hours trying to get through to her doctor's office at the V.A.
This would be frustrating for anyone, but this is someone who served her country and simply wants the benefits that sacrifice earned.
“To call the V.A. is a nightmare,” veteran Laurie Atalla said. “You might as well just sit down and plan on spending the day.”
With our cameras rolling, Atalla called the main number at the V.A. Medical Center.
“I have no faith whatsoever that that's going to go anywhere,” she said as the phone rang.
She was put on hold almost immediately.
“You feel defeated before you even start,” she said.
After 15 minutes on hold, Laurie hung up to try again. She said this is typical.
“What would work on a normal phone cue doesn't seem to work at the V.A.,” Atalla said. “I don't understand how their system works.”
Atalla is a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran. Like many vets, she now receives care through the V.A.
“Most veterans here in Hampton know that if you want an appointment, the best way to get it is you have to go to the V.A. to make the appointment,” she said. “Don't even try to pick up the phone.”
13News Now learned some of these issues could stem from a substantial increase in the call volume at the V.A.
In 2016, it averaged about 9,000 calls a month. Now, the call center averages about 25,000 calls each month.
“One of the things that we did is look at how many calls were coming in per day and how many calls were getting answered and wasn't getting answered,” Dr. Taquisa Simmons, who joined the administration as the associate director of operations last year, said.
Simmons said they're in the process of bringing in new support assistants to help with that call volume, in addition to the lines in the main hospital and specialty clinics. Right now, they've almost doubled the number of operators answering the phones to 23.
“It's the top priority, in terms of making sure that veterans who borne the battle get the services that they deserve,” Simmons said.
There are large screens on display at the call center to keep track if they're actually accomplishing that goal. They display the stats for every call. Simmons explained her goal is to have 100 percent of calls answered in less than 30 seconds and if a call falls through, she wants operators to call back the very same day.
The call center receives about 1,500 to 1,600 calls a day.
“Of course, our veterans deserve the best,” she responded. “There are a lot of opportunities for continuous improvement within our system and I think that here locally that there's an awareness of that.”
We also reached out to administrators at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Officials declined our request for an interview. We have repeatedly asked for more information, but multiple calls and emails have not been returned.