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VA call center workers in Kansas say time limits short-change veterans

By ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: May 10, 2019

TOPEKA, Kan. — Call center workers at the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center say time limits that management has placed on calls short-change veterans who are seeking assistance.

The time limit issue has been a sticking point for six years but recently came to a head when workers received a letter threatening them with being fired if they allow calls to exceed the time limit, employees said.

"Basically, what management has done is tell the workers they only have 5 minutes and 57 seconds to handle the veteran's issue and if they go beyond that, they run the risk of getting terminated," said Kelli Ross, vice president of Local 906 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Call takers assist veterans with issues such as billing, prescription refills, eligibility and enrollments.

About a dozen employees protested outside the Topeka campus Wednesday to make the public aware of what's going on and to gain support, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The call center employs about 400 people. Its phone number is printed on the back of the identification card that veterans receive upon enrolling in the VA health care system.

Ross contends that the time constraints aren't reasonable, given the fact that some veterans may need additional explanation to have their questions answered. It can also take two minutes just to retrieve a veteran's information in the computer system and verify eligibility before getting started.

The call center is part of Veterans Health Administration Member Services, which is a separate entity from the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center, which provides health care to veterans in a hospital and outpatient-care setting.

"In order to provide veterans and their families with fast and accurate information through our call centers, we set high performance standards and expect our employees to achieve them," said Stacy Rine, executive assistant for Veterans Health Administration Member Services. "We make no apology for that, because at VA, service to veterans must come first in all that we do."

But Melissa Jarboe, executive director and founder of the Military Veteran Project, said any human deserves more time than 5 minutes and 57 seconds for a phone call.

"I just don't know how productive you can be or how much assistance you can actually render in that time frame," Jarboe said.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal
 

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