The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ new telephone hotline for veterans eclipsed 250,000 phone calls and spread its operation into a sprawling office complex in the mountains of Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
The White House VA Hotline, which first opened as a small operation in the basement of VA headquarters in 2017, has rapidly grown in size, staff and call intake.
The hotline — 1-855-948-2311 — is staffed by operators, 90 percent of whom are veterans. The 24-hour operation accepts calls from veterans nationwide.
The hotline initiative was announced in 2017 amid criticism from veterans and veteran service organizations about the challenges of reaching VA representatives by phone.
VA officials shifted the hotline from the basement of the VA’s central office near the White House to a federal office complex in Jefferson County.
“This is our frontline,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “It’s probably the most efficient triage service we have for veterans in crisis.”
VA records show the hotline has received approximately 250,000 calls since its inception. The size of the staff operating the hotline is increasing. Call operators are spread through a wide office space, roughly the size of a gymnasium.
The employees sit at cubicles with a pair of computer screens. The computers are equipped with electronic VA guidebooks, contacts and instructions for navigating the large and complex agency and its services.
“It provides a front door,” VA Chief Veterans Experience Officer Dr. Lynda C. Davis said. “(Operators) are lowering the veterans’ anxiety and helping them improve their quality of life.”
VA studies of the hotline show calls are answered in an average of nine seconds. Operators said a large number of calls come from veterans with questions about claims, benefits or prescriptions, including medications that hadn’t arrived on time. The VA’s Choice program and its new Mission Act, both of which allow veterans to seek non-VA care for some medical needs, also produce a growing number of calls, employees said.
“We have people calling with concerns that are very specific,” Davis said. “What is the status of my benefits claim? When is my prescription ready to pick up? We get calls from all over the country.”