Who do you turn to when you have a complaint about service from your VA?
It depends. The VA is a vast machine. There are 3 major business units of the VA, 300,000 plus employees and innumerable contractors. If you want resolution to a problem, you have to gripe to the right person.
This does not include complaints about your benefits claim. A benefits claim can only be appealed.
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 resolved. You must be your own or your veteran’s own advocate. Nobody will help you. You have to write a letter. 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.
There are 2 kinds of complaints: (1) You just want to vent and (2) You need resolution to a specific issue. We’re going to focus on finding a solution to your VA service gripes.
We’ll help you along by giving you a few templates and addresses on this page. The rest is up to you.
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?
- Click here for examples on How To Effectively Write To VA for your needs.
- 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.
- Use simple language. Even when writing to a court, you do not need to pretend that you are a lawyer.
Please take time to visit Jim’s Mailbag through stateside legal.
He is a nationally known veteran’s advocate and member of the Stateside legal advisory board. He has responded to various questions regarding several VA benefit topics.
Complaints about healthcare or medical problems
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 and 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 ask.
Filing a Writ of Mandamus
Veterans are having long delays between NODs and DRO hearings/SOCs. This is nothing new. It is getting worse, much worse.
Before the veteran or dependent can file for any petition of discrepancy, 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 suggested 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 action.”
- 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. Make no demands and no threats. This is only an inquiry. After 30 days with no response, 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. They will doubtfully respond to a DIY veteran. After the second inquiry then send a 3rd letter advising the VARO of the previous inquiries. 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.
Tell them you’ll allow 15 working days and advise that you will be forced to communicate with the Secretary and the Under Secretary of the Veterans Benefits Administration. This is all just an exercise since it isn’t expected that anyone will respond. Alert them that you’ll send the letters if you don’t have a reply in 15 working days.
Finally, after 15 working days and no response or action, compose a letter to the Secretary & Under-Secretary. 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. Be sure to include copies of the letters sent to the RO.
Note that if action or response is not received within 10 working days that you (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.
How to effectively complain to your Congressional Representative
It’s rare that you need to write to your Congress person or your Senator. Having said that, if you have an issue that hasn’t been resolved in any other way, bringing in your Congressional Representative at the right time can work miracles for you.
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.
It is recommended 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.
We suggest 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.
If you aren’t close to a local office, your letter should be delivered to the nearest office to you. Use certified mail, RRR as you always do.
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 sites.
You may use this same process for your Senator. Vets Spouse usually recommends the local Congressperson if there is an office close to you. 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 person 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.