As a sophomore in college, the first of every month became a VA ritual for me. I would certify my enrollment for the Montgomery GI Bill, then I would call to check the status of my disability claim. “Still being decided on,” I would hear for months after my medical evaluation. I stuffed the business card full of numbers back into my wallet, where it would remain for another month. It was covered with numbers to various VA offices, their physical locations unknown. They all went to ‘the VA,’ wherever that was. A year after submitting my claim, I heard the good news on the other line-my claim was accepted, and I would receive back pay for the past year. A check was on its way to Carver Avenue.
“Carver Avenue? I haven’t lived there for months! I already changed my mailing address with GI Bill people!” I told the lady on the other end. I had moved recently, and made sure to contact the GI Bill help line to update my mailing information. “Sorry,” she said. “We don’t work on the same system. We’ll have to cancel that one and send another.” I was confused. Why wasn’t everything connected to the massive dark tower in the middle of Washington DC?
It took a confusing phone call and a misdirected check for me to realize that the Department of Veterans Affairs operates with distinct parts, each with a specific role. It has best been described to me that the three administrations–Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration and National Cemetery Administration–operate like the separate branches of the military. Each branch fulfills the mission to achieve domestic and international security goals while having separate command structures, SOPs, lingo and culture. The three VA administrations work to provide services and support for Veterans, but their structure, budgets, goals and projects don’t always align. Much has been done recently to break down the walls and collaborate between the administrations, but there is still work to do.
I could have saved a lot of time and effort if I knew back then that VHA, VBA and NCA are as different as Army, Navy and Air Force. It would’ve helped to understand when and where to update my information so I could be contacted (or sent a check) if necessary. It’s worth considering that many more Veterans don’t know that either, which can lead to confusion and frustration when searching for information or points of contact. We aim to break down the components and straighten out the differences between the administrations to reduce the size of what VA seems to be. And we’ll be shedding light on VA programs and initiatives you might be surprised to hear even exist. The goal is simple: give every Veteran the confidence to approach VA without the hesitation of facing a baffling fortress of government.