They Ain't No Grammarians: One More Example of Why The VA Claim System Is Broken
Official correspondence from semi-literate VBA employee indicative of deeply-rooted problems at agency.
12.08.2008


If you have ever received a letter from your Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) and wondered just what it said, you aren't alone. Most of us have tried to read an award letter and wondered if there were a page missing that would explain what we were reading.

Communication between individuals is an art and a science. The written word is possibly the most difficult way of all to communicate. If you speak to a person face to face you have an advantage of facial expressions, subtle smiles or raised eyebrows can speak volume for you.

When you write, you lose all those advantages. The listener can't interrupt to ask a question. The writer must answer all potential questions without being asked. The only impression your reader has is what is there in front of them.

This is even more important in a business correspondence when the writer is someone you don't know and probably will never know. Is the writer authoritative? Do you trust what they say to you? Are all of your concerns addressed? Do they seem intelligent and informed without talking down to you? Does the communication to you satisfy your need to know or does it bring about more questions than before?

When I hear from the VA I deserve a clear and concise message from a person who has the knowledge and the authority to be writing to me. If I am to follow up, I believe the instructions to me should be clear and leave no doubt. I want to read plain English, not some sort of gibberish.

But, the recent hiring frenzy at the VA has lowered the bar. The Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA), the benefits arm of the VA, has gone around beating the bushes seeking warm bodies to fill positions and fluff the numbers rather than seeking talent and skills to lay a new course for our future.

The standards for employment by any government agency are usually low and dependent on such things as point preferences rather than skills and abilities. Once an individual has a foot in the door, they are part of a vast federal union (usually) and protected from discipline for such things as poor performance.

The reader who sent me the following letter from a VBA Regional Office was astounded. These aren't typos or forgivable errors in usage. This is a bastardization of the language by a semi-literate person that goes beyond unacceptable.



   "On December XX, 2007 you wrote a letter dispute the debt.

   On October XX, 2007, VA processes an award that creates a debt for $XX.

   November XX, 2007 Department of Veterans Affair Debt Management Center send you      letter explain the dollar amount of the debt.

   On May XX, 2008 VA process an award that repays you for the debt.

   On May XX, 2008 VA issue you a Retroactive Check for $XX.

   This check is from March XX, 2007 for $XX x 7 months that = $XX.

   This letter tells you what happen about the debt."



The above letter reads like it was written by a third-grader. And, in case you just can’t believe what you just read, the original document is here…

The VBA is failing you again. You know that disgruntled employees are destroying your records. The documents that aren't being destroyed by the disgruntled employees are being lost or destroyed by managers trying to achieve impossible goals to make those all important bonuses. You read VA Watchdog dot Org every day and you're aware that the Regional Office managers are cooking the books to manipulate numbers so that the hefty bonuses come through even if the money is filthy lucre earned upon a stack of lies.

Lest you think I am making fun of the “third-grader” who wrote the above letter, let me be clear. There is nothing funny about a semi-literate person holding the fate of your VA claim in their hands. If a person writes at a “third-grade” level, then it’s a good bet that their comprehension level hovers somewhere nearby. Veterans wonder why their claims are denied. If the person who is adjudicating the claim can’t understand it and can’t respond accordingly, then the simple solution is to deny it.

And we must ask, where are the VBA managers who let correspondence of this quality get out of their Regional Office? Do they know? Do they care? Or, did they approve it?

Today we recognize and highlight the semi-literate employees of the VBA. That we can focus our spotlight on them ever more sharply, I'll ask that you send me your own examples of the depressing, incomprehensible communications that you receive at your home. Attach it to an email, removing all your personal info, and send to me here...

I'm opening a new page on my "Veterans Benefits Guide" today so that these will live on forever and the wealth of these documents will accumulate for all to gaze at and wonder over. Please help me fill it up with these gems.

Will this embarrass or shame them? Probably not. You see, they really don't care what you or I think.