So, you're like hundreds of thousands of other veterans. VA isn't doing the job and you're suffering for it.
Maybe you've received a letter that makes no sense. You may have been
notified that VA is about to reduce your benefits. There are hundreds of
reasons that you may need some help with a VA problem.
Most vets want to talk to someone official who will help them. They pick
up the phone and call the 800 number. The vet might call his or her
"representative" for help.
Most of the actions vets take when they're angry or confused don't
accomplish anything. All too often, they make their situation worse with
too many misguided emails and telephone calls.
There are only a few tried and true ways to resolve problems with VA. We'll do our best to present those to you on this page.
How do you get anyone at VA to listen to you?
depends. The VA is a vast machine. There are 3 major business units of
the VA, 300,000 plus employees and uncountable contractors.
In most other instances, you'll write a letter to the right people in
the right department and your problem will be reviewed and probably
You have to do it yourself.
Nobody will help you. You have to write a letter. In my years of taking
care of VA issues, I've learned that nothing replaces the well written
letter. If you want a quick fix, go ahead and make phone calls. Your
calls will be forgotten as quickly as you make them.
Most of the solutions to your problems will involve a well written letter.
Key Points To Consider As You Write A Letter
* You must never allow anger to be expressed in your message. Anger is a waste of time.
* You must be courteous and respectful. The person you are writing to
has the authority to help you solve your problem. Make that person want
to help you by being businesslike and professional.
* Stick to the point. If you believe that you were treated
disrespectfully by a VA staff person, say that. Don't go on to talk
about the parking or how hard times are these days. Do not ramble.
* Keep it brief. The best complaint letter or letter seeking assistance
is one page and no more. To begin the process of resolving the problem
does not require that you give 10 pages of minute details. Make your
case. Get the attention of the person who you're writing to and be
quiet. Short letters that have PUNCH get read. Long diatribes are set
aside for another day and sometimes get lost.
VAWatchdog reminds you: Use certified
mail, return receipt requested (RRR). If your letter is going to a
Congressional Representative at a Washington, D.C. address, you should
use fax or email. Certified mail
will provide you with a receipt (a small green postcard) that is the
best proof that you'll have that your message has been delivered.
There are a number of good resources you may want to review to determine how to effectively communicate with Congress.
Contacting the Congress
is a very up-to-date citizen's congressional directory for the 112th
Congress. There are 538 electronic contact addresses (of which 535 are
Web-based contact forms), and 538 home pages known for the 540 members
of the 112th Congress. Traditional ground mail addresses are available
for all current members of Congress.
So, you're going to write your Congressman? Good idea. Make it a good letter.
People who think members of Congress pay little or no attention to
constituent mail, are plain wrong. Concise, well thought out personal
letters are one of the most effective ways Americans have of influencing
law-makers. But, members of Congress get hundreds of letters and emails
every day. Whether you choose to use the Postal Service or email, here
are some tips that will help your letter have impact.
The executives at the VA Central Office are concerned about veterans.
Writing directly to the executive who is in charge of the department
where you have a problem can be an effective way to get things to happen
This isn't difficult...
Go to the home page of VAWatchdog. Look at the top of the page. There is
a row of photos and each photo is a link. Click on those to find the
person you want to communicate with. Make note of the proper spelling of
that person's name and their formal title.
Address your letter to...
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Note that this is an older document. Many of these addresses may have changed.
How To Report A Health Care Or Medical Problem.
This is when you have trouble with a
doctor, problems with a clerk or a nurse or you're disputing the way
your medicines are being prescribed or distributed.
The first step in this process is to gather your facts. Define just
exactly what the problem is. When did this occur? Do you have paperwork
showing the problem?
Gather your wits about you. Anger will not help and may make your
situation much worse very quickly. VA medical facilities are heavily
guarded by VA police. There's a reason for this. Veterans are military
people. We are trained to be violent. The VA police are aware of this.
The VA police are not security guards, they are licensed police
officers. They will not coddle you and empathize with your problems if
you get loud and angry. They will arrest you.
As you proceed, you'll want to speak with a patient advocate. This step
is required. If you skip this step, you'll just hurt your credibility.
Most patient advocates are good at what they do. They want to help you
resolve the problem. Find your advocate. Be patient...they're busy.
Describe your problem carefully and quietly. Give the advocate time to
resolve the issue.
If this doesn't work for you, it's time to write a letter.
All communications to VA must be neatly typed to look much like anything
the VA sends to you. The header will have the name and title of the
individual you want to read your letter as well as the correct facility
address. If you aren't sure who that is, take the time to look it up or
The body of your letter must be brief, courteous and to the point. The following is a good template to use.
VIA Certified Mail RRR
VA Medical Center
VA Central Office
Reference: Veterans Name, SSN, VA Claim Number
Dear (Sir/Madame or the name of the person you are writing to):
This letter will tell you of an event that I believe has harmed me.
(Or...This letter will tell you of a situation that I believe is harmful
to myself and other veterans. You should briefly state why you're
writing this message.)
At this point in your letter, you describe what you believe is the
problem. Keep it brief. Check your spelling. Don't ramble. Make your
point and be quiet.
Thank you for your kind attention to my statement. I will look forward to your reply at your earliest convenience.
Mary Sixpak, Veteran
The VA Office of the Medical Inspector
Jim Tanner advises veterans on health care issues... (James Tanner is an advocate for veterans in Massachusetts. Thanks Jim! )
"Jim, FYI, an email to The VA Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI) may get a fast reaction."
Send a letter to;
VA Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI)
810 Vermont Ave, NW, Washington DC, 20402
OMI web site: The Office of the Medical Inspector (OMI) Listens to Veterans
The OMI addresses health care problems to monitor and improve the
quality of care provided by VHA. If you, or a Veteran you know, has a
problem with VHA medical care, phone, email, or write us. Our Hotline
Number is 800-634-4782. We take calls from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET on
weekdays. Our voice mail operates 24/7.
In the experience of VAWatchdog, every letter written to these people
has elicited a response. The quality of the response is equal to the
quality of the letter.
When you write to these leaders, it's doubtful that they will ever
actually read your message. The likelihood of the individual actually
reading your letter decreases with its length and how much you ramble.
If you are brief and to the point, your message may get to his or her
Otherwise, your letter will be assigned to a staff person to research and respond to.
The VA Central Office is serious about researching every communication
they receive. Nothing is ignored. However, if you want a positive
outcome to your complaint, you must set the investigation in motion. You
must be brief and to the point.
Clearly say what your problem is.
Do not ramble on.
Be courteous. When you show genuine respect, the VA Central Office will return that to you 100 times over.
Addresses are below on this page.
How to get help from your Congressional representative.
Only a couple of years ago, it seemed
rare that you would need to write to your
Congressperson or your Senator. The VA hasn't improved. If anything, the
claims adjudication process has become measurably worse.
Having said that, if a veteran doesn't take aggressive action to get the
attention of the VA, he or she may wait for 2, 3 or even many more
Getting in touch with your Congressional Representative at the right
time can work miracles for
you. Remember that your Congressperson doesn't have the authority to
tell the VA to do anything. Once you've made the contact, the
Congressperson's office staff will send VA a Congressional Inquiry. This
is just a question about the status of your claim.
Although the Congressperson can't order VA to finish your claim, the
inquiry is enough to stir it up at your regional office. Each RO
maintains a dedicated staff who respond to Congressional Inquiries. If
there is a problem with your claim...it's well over a year old for
example...VA will usually take immediate action to correct that. If your
claim is less than 2 years aged, there may just be a letter back to
your Congressperson that says you're claim is in the long line.
Keep in mind that although you don't have to be a registered voter, it
doesn't hurt. A statement like, "I voted for you and supported your
campaign..." won't ensure that you get a great response but it alerts
their office that you are paying attention to their position and you
could change your vote.
Who is your Representative? Scroll down on this page to find out just
how to determine who and where to send your message. You'll find links
and references there.
Each of you has a Congressperson and 2 Senators who represent you.
VAWatchdog recommends that you begin with your Congressperson. That
person is more likely to have an office local to you. If you can get to a
local office, so much the better.
Each office will have an employee who
is the Military and Veterans Liaison. The title may vary from one
office to the next but this person will have the job of working with
veterans or active military on behalf of your Congressperson.
VAWatchdog recommends that you visit the office and that you get to meet
this person if at all possible. You should first write a letter, just
as you would in any complaint situation. You can then hand deliver the
letter when you walk into the local office.
If you aren't close to a local office, your letter may be delivered to
the nearest office to you. Use certified mail, RRR as you always do.
All correspondence is addressed to the Congressional Representative.
VIA Certified Mail RRR
Address - Local Office
Reference: Veterans Name, SSN, VA Claim Number
Dear (The name of the person you are writing to):
Opening statement. One sentence. Why I am writing this.
Letter body. The brief details of your specific problem.
Close the letter.
Joe Sixpak, Veteran
Do not send mail to the Congressional offices in Washington, D.C. This
may delay the progress as all paper mail sent to Congress in D.C. is
given extra security screening. You may write the letter and fax it to
the Washington offices or you may copy and paste it into the message
delivery system that almost every Congressperson uses on their web
You may do this same process for your Senator if you would like.
Getting to know the person there who will help you is a bonus.
Otherwise, the way that any Congressional Representative handles your
problem is about the same.
Study the Congressional Representative you are asking for help. Does
this person serve on any Veterans Affairs Committees? Is this person a
veteran? The more you know about your representatives, the more likely
it is that you'll choose the right person to help you.
Links to addresses are below.
As you go about making this contact, you must be prepared to show
evidence of why you're asking for help. This is as important as anything
else you'll do. When you meet with the veterans liaison you should have
copies of any documents that are relevant to your claim. You should
show evidence of when you filed the claim, the evidence that you believe
supports your claim and any actions you've taken to contact VA.
All of this must be in good order. The more of this sort of detail you
do for the liaison the better your chances are to get the Congressional
inquiry that you want and need.
Your credibility counts when you take this sort of an action. Do your
homework ahead of time. Don't overstate or inflate anything to the
liaison. If you have a good reason to contact Congress, you're probably
going to get some help. If you aren't well prepared and don't have your
story in order, you're wasting everyone's time.
"But one vet who called found a way of getting through the bureaucracy – he called his representative in Congress and heard back from the VA the next day."
Key Points To Remember
* To communicate in writing is the most effective action you can take
when working with VA. The well written letter is the most powerful
weapon you have at your disposal. Telephone calls, emails and faxes are
all going to be lost or ignored. A certified letter will be of record
and will provide the evidence you need to prevail.
* A well written letter is brief, to the point and polite. Courtesy is
of utmost importance. You are communicating with ranking officials and
you must show respect. This is not the time to vent your anger and
frustration. Rants will assure that you will lose your case.
* Brevity is important. Do not wander off topic. As you write your
letter, consider what your goal is. Name it. Most letters should be one
single page. When you have finished writing your letter, wait 24 hours
and return to it to check if you can make it shorter.
* Focus, focus, focus. If you were receiving the letter, would you want to read it? Would it make sense to you?
* A paper trail is vital. You must lodge your complaints at the lowest
level of the chain of command first. This is usually the VA Regional
Office (VARO) where your C-File
is held. For example, if you are requesting information or a status
report about your NOD that was filed months ago, you must first write to
the VARO. Then you write again in 30 days. Then again in 30 days, etc.
Until you've done this via certified mail and there has been no reply,
you don't write to anyone of authority higher in the chain of command.
* Nobody will do this for you. You must Do It Yourself.
* Use simple language. Even when writing to a court, you do not need to pretend that you are a lawyer.
A Writ of Mandamus
An advocate has a suggestion for you...
(The advocate has requested that he/she
remain anonymous. Although I prefer that any person offering advice on
VAWatchdog be visible, this person has cases pending before various
courts. To expose his/her identity could possibly jeopardize that task.
Thus, anonymity is assured.)
Veterans are having long delays between NODs and DRO hearings/SOCs.
This is nothing new. It is getting worse, much worse. I've had success
advising clients to file pro se petitions for writ at the Court of
Appeals for Veterans Claims. Within about 6 to 8 weeks they either have a
favorable decision, a DRO decision or an SOC.
Before the veteran can do that, it's necessary to develop a paper trail or the Court will throw it out.
Here's the way to approach it. This can be used by anyone doing their own claims. (DIY is called "Pro Se")
The paper trail is vital and the time limits I suggest are as follows:
* If no response to the NOD in 6-8 months, do a respectful inquiry on the status
* If no response in 30 days, do a second inquiry referring to the first inquiry
* If no response in 20 working days to the second inquiry, do a letter
referring to both earlier inquiries that have not been answered, note
the number of days that have passed since the date the NOD was filed,
and state something like, "If a favorable decision or statement of the
case is not received within 15 working days I will contact the
Secretary, the Office of General Counsel, the Office of Inspector
General, and the Under Secretary for Veterans Benefits advising that I
intend to petition the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to compel
* If no answer within the 15 days, send the letter to all of the addressees and provide 20 working days to respond
* If no response or inadequate response within the 20 working days file
the letter that is a pro se petition for Writ to the Court
After filing the NOD, wait 6 months. Then send an inquiry letter to the
VARO about the status of the NOD. This is just a business letter... I
make no demands and no threats. This is only an inquiry. After 30 days
with no response I send the second inquiry, remind them of the last
inquiry, and ask them to respond in 20 working days; a month, more or
less. Again, no threats or demands.
As you might guess, the VARO never responds. I doubt they will respond
to a DIY veteran. After the second inquiry I then send a 3rd letter
advising the VARO of the previous inquiries. I remind them of the exact
number of days it has been since no response to the NOD, and ask them to
consider the letter a formal demand for a response or action.
I tell them them I'll allow 15 working days and advise that I will be
forced to communicate with the Secretary and the Under Secretary of the
Veterans Benefits Administration. This is all just an exercise because I
don't expect that anyone will respond. I alert them that I'll send the
letters if I don't have a reply in 15 working days.
Finally, after 15 working days and no response or action, I compose a
letter to the Secretary & Under-Secretary. I put all of their
addresses on the letter so they all know each got the letter and, most
importantly, so the Court will know they all got the letter. I include
copies of the letters sent to the RO.
I note that if action or response is not received within 10 working days
that I (or the veteran) will file a petition for a writ of mandamus
from the Court. After 10 days and no response or action from VACO, the
veteran should file a letter with the Court asking them to issue an
order to the Secretary to provide a response or the action required.
The Court will, if the correspondence supports, order the Secretary to
respond in a certain amount of time. The result is the VA does what it is supposed to do and OGC submits a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot, which the Court does.
This works on a pro se basis and if the paper trail is adequate the VA
will respond with the action required once it gets to the Court.
The above information about how to file a writ of mandamus is not legal
advice. This is provided for information only.