3 Tips To Handle A Voc Rehab Counselor Who Will Not Communicate
If you are having a tough time getting in touch with your Voc Rehab counselor, there are three tips that I used to break through the silence.
Disabled veterans have historically struggled getting communications back from their respective counselors. Counselors sometimes “go dark” – fail to call back or write back – for many days, weeks or months. This can result in delayed tuition payments, delayed stipends payments or other hardships.
Many counselors are great, but even the great ones are likely overworked, resulting in untimely communications or missed calls and emails. Other counselors are just plain lazy and do not bother communicating with their veterans in a timely manner.
Regardless of the counselor type, lazy or overworked, there are some simple ways to increase your odds of hearing back.
I wanted to give you three tips to get the ball rolling after your counselor goes dark.
Veterans seeking more information on writing styles, appeals or initiating their claim should check out my Voc Rehab Survival Guide. I wrote the guide to help veterans like you get through the program and accomplish what I did, which was funding for law school and for my law firm.
VOC REHAB COUNSELOR COMMUNICATION TIPS
#1 WRITE IT DOWN
Much of this problem is premised on a veteran’s failure to communicate in writing with their counselors. Veterans tend to focus only on oral communication, which is a mistake. Written communications are always better when it comes to moving the ball (your claim) forward.
Emails and letters are the best ways to communicate. You can send a letter by fax or US Mail.
I prefer fax because it ensures it was received by the office you intend to send it to rather than possibly getting routed to the claims processing center in Janesville, Wisconsin. Plus, the faxed letter will get there right away rather than waiting a few days for snail mail plus mailroom processing.
Best of all, with a fax, you will have documentation that it was received and when.
Another factor to consider when it comes to escalation is to use the appropriate communication medium.
I write all my appeals or disagreement documents in an MS Word document, sign it, and convert it to PDF before sending it by fax and email.
For normal communications, I use email so long as I am on good footing with the counselor. Emails do create a decent paper trail and should be included in your file. For lengthy communications (greater than 2 pages), you may want to consider emailing a PDF because long emails tend to get difficult to read if there are responses back an forth.
I generally avoid phone communications unless my counselor needs to ask me a question about something. Talking on the phone takes too much time, in my opinion. Emails are quicker.
#2 USE REASONABLE ESCALATION STRATEGY
You need to stick to a reasonable escalation strategy, which will train your counselor in your patterns for email.
Once you accomplish this training successfully, odds are your counselor will be more responsive to you than other veterans who do not reach out in an effective manner.
Former Chapter 31 Voc Rehab director Ruth Fanning told me a counselor should get back to a veteran client within 2-3 days.
Each counselor within the program has huge workloads that most civilian vocational counselors would never have. This workload issue tends to result in counselors being somewhat less responsive than they should be. But the workload problem should not be your problem, so it is important to document whenever a counselor goes dark for too long.
Keeping these points in mind, I think it is reasonable to expect a communication from your Voc Rehab counselor within 5 business days.
In your emails, put a normal heading for the subject you wish to get feedback on.
If you do not receive a communication within 5 business days, forward the same email you sent back to the counselor but place “SECOND EMAIL” at the beginning of the same subject line. Then resend. Follow up this email with a phone call and leave a message if no one answers.
If you do not hear back within 2 business days, send a third email using the same tactic except add something like,
“FYI did you get this email? I have sent you two other emails and left one voice message on [insert dates] If I do not hear back within 2 business days, I will forward a copy to the VREO. Please let me know if you are experiencing email technical difficulties. If you are, let’s figure out a more timely way I can communicate with you about my claim.”
VA has had problems with its email servers for the past year. The problem has not been fixed.
If you do not hear back, fax or mail copies of your emails to the attention of the VRE Officer (VREO) and send a quick note to the VRE Officer that your counselor has been out of communication. Also, explain to the VRE Officer the issue you need insight on along within copies of the emails you sent as attachments.
RELATED: VA Email System Broken For Two Months
This will ensure you get the feedback you need even if you receive it in an untimely manner the first few times.
If the VREO fails to respond within 5 business days, you may want to send copy of all previous correspondence and a brief letter to your regional office director requesting a response.
You can find the identies of the VREO or regional office director on your respective regional office website under the menu “leadership.”
#3 AVOID ACCUSATIONS, USE HONEY
This is my “attract flies with honey” theory of communication.
Even if your Voc Rehab counselor has behaved in a hostile or tardy manner, blasting him or her with accusations in a letter will only alienate that person.
You need to sell them on the idea of helping you at all times. If you think about your communications from a sales perspective – that you are selling the counselor on you – you will avoid writing antagonistic emails or letters.
Focus on the meat and potatoes of whatever your communication is hoping to accomplish.
Be professional in what you do at all times. Assume a judge may review your claim at some point in time if that helps you keep your cool.
Again, use honey to attract the outcome you want.
Here is an example of a third email that you would pass on to the VRE Officer:
“I have attempted to communicate with Counselor X in your office on three separate dates, 8/12/16, 8/17/16 and 8/19/16, but I have not received a communication back that addresses my concerns. The purpose of my email was to find out when Counselor X will process my tuition payment. The college has demanded payment in writing and threatened to disenroll me without payment.
“Can you please get back to me with an answer? Also, I attempted to reach Counselor X numerous times. Can you let me know if there is a different way I can communicate with Counselor X to get an answer within a reasonable amount of time?
“I appreciate your attention to this matter.”
I hope this helps you push past the communication barrier issue that so many veterans are faced with on a normal basis.
You want to be sure to write down whatever your concern is so that you create a paper trail. You want to escalate a matter if the counselor does not respond to you within a reasonable amount of time. And, you want to be professional and kind at all times.
Veterans seeking more information on the subject of Voc Rehab may want to check out the guide I wrote on the subject. My goal in writing the Voc Rehab Survival Guide was to help veterans push pass bureaucratic road blocks when seeking their benefits. Check it out.
Have you ever had to deal with untimely VA communications? If you have had problems with communication, please write down a brief story below.
Someone at the VA, the approving authority at the voc rehab department, straight up called you a liar Mr. Krause (after he denied my claim and I told him there’s lawyers out there who used the program for a J.D.). Said that you were spreading misleading information and dropped your name like he was your personal friend! I find the VA to be full of S*** and this guy rubbed me the wrong way. I know they are lying to me but how do you fight the big guy?
I went in to see my counselor today. (2nd visit) I did my homework and had the 3 jobs that I wanted to get into. She then stated that there are not 5 jobs available at this time. I have to get more jobs?????? The she told me that I need to apply for 100% disability because I an unemployable. WHAT that floored me. I felt as though I was being brushed off.
Also after the first visit she said that I need to get back into talk therapy (I hate talk, therapy did it for 4 years, tired of talking about it) She also told me I need to get a TBI test. I am set up for it next week.
Even if you are 100% unemployable, according to the VA standards, you are STILL eligible for Voc Rehab. So apply for the 100%, tell your counselor “Thank you” for the suggestion and then let them know you will be continuing on with the program. Also, from personal experience, the VA ALWAYS recommends “more tests before we can do ‘X’ ” is their favorite deny and delay tactic. Do the tests since there is no way to question them wasting tax payers money but as soon as the test is done go back and ask for the same help you actually need. My experience is that I met my counselor ONE time, she NEVER responds to voice mail or emails, she never replies, and I only get her to even do the minimum (like approving books) by calling her bosses office and having the secretary there send her a text message begging her to please approve whatever it is I need. It is a continuous process of emailing her three months BEFORE I need something, then emailing her weekly to ask if its been done, to finally calling the main office and having someone text her.
I find that if I CC: my DAV Service Officer (or other person) and the Counselor sees i have CC’d them, you get a response much quicker. The more people on CC, the faster the reply. Audience watching….
I suppose I’m in the minority here. My first VR&E counselor was great in terms of accepting my intended program and making sure I will be covered through my Master’s program. After she got promoted to Supervisory VR&E, the counselor I have now has responded right away to e-mails.
Of course, now that my old counselor is a supervisor, I can go to her if the current counselor isn’t doing his job.
Hard to believe that my experience is the exception as it pertains to Chapter 31.
Note to admin; the chicks on your bad VA art freedom of expression are generally pretty hot if they don’t have a birthing face on, but the VA chicks you show looks like they routinely strap,the ol feeding bag on between DBC sessions. Can you find a hot chick from VA to picture? She doesn’t have to be a virgin or anything?
Dealing with my Voc Rehab counselor requires an exercise in extreme patience. I never wait until the last day to try and get him to act. The day after I select my classes I call the VA office to see if my 1908 has been sent by the counselor. Unfortunately, it usually has not been generated and sent. This is when I start my daily email and phone call to voice mail campaign ( voc reb counselor never answers phone or returns calls). By day three I drive down to Regional Office to talk with counselor via walkin (luckily I am only one mile away).
Should not be this difficult to get tuition paid by VA. I know that if I say the wrong thing to him he will lash out at me verbally. I treat him with kindness and kiss his ass because I know he pays the bills. My advise: be nice to them and be persistent. Face to face they will always act like they care but I do agree I know they are overworked and normally want to care about the vets they counsel.
Thanks, Ben. These are great tips. By the way, I am having trouble finding out about funding for a business through Voc Rehab instead of finding employment. I noticed you include the topic in the Survival Guide, but not many details. How I can I find out what benefits are provided for funding a business and how to get Voc Rehab to approve it? Or, maybe someone here has some experience with this side of Voc Rehab? Thanks in advance!
I forgot to add…do not forget about the VAs Report of Contact system.
This appears to be an internal VA system they use when a veteran comes in with a problem that cannot be resolved, or the person you are talking to won’t do their job and resolve it.
I found out about this when I went to the Release of Information office and was talking to the clerk. She asked me if I wanted her to write a Report of Contact, and explained it was a Report of Contact with a veteran that was sent to various VA management in that hospital.
Long story short, it seems to be a way of documenting a problem that is not being resolved that is sent to VA management. If you visit a Patient Advocate or anyone else trying to resolve a problem, and it does not get resolved, ask them to write a Report of Contact and provide you a copy. You can also request they write a Report of Contact when you call them.
The FOIA response I received shows they will write Reports of Contact over in-person visits, phone calls, emails, etc., and seems more designed to inform VA management of issues that might bite them in the ass.
Receiving those through FOIA was very eye opening when you see who has been informed of a problem, yet they have failed to take any action to fix the problem.
They also use those Reports of Contact as proof of whether they have taken action on a problem when responding to McDonald’s office or to congressional inquiries. They don’t care whether the RoCs are factual or not, they just point and say, “see, we contacted the veteran”.
They also clearly show the lies they tell trying to cover their own ass.
These tips are good advice for communication with the VA on just about any issue.
I usually visit them in person, give them a phone call or leave a voice mail first before I put things in writing and reference the voice mails left.
When I was discharged after knee replacement surgery without a knee brace and with the IV port still in my arm, I called the Patient Advocate before I even got home. Over the next 2-3 weeks, I stopped in to the Patient Advocates office to check on what was being done. I was led to believe I would have a meeting with someone to discuss what happened. After the 4th instance of getting excuses, it was clear they were doing nothing and hoping I would go away. I put in writing what the problems were and went in my wheel chair to the directors office. Their executive Secretary claimed she was out, and claimed she had no idea when she might be in her office. I have her the letter.
The director never did respond, but I got a letter from the Chief of Nursing explaining what they did to investigate, and an apology for their nurses being rude. They weren’t rude, they were fucking incompetent and dangerous.
That was over 2 years ago.
Just this year, when I received a response to a FOIA request, I see that same director responded in email to another VA employee that that employee has really “gone above and beyond for this man”. The problem to this day has not been resolved. Because it has not been resolved, I emailed McDonald, Shulkin, Bevins and others, including an aide to my Congressman asking them about 8 questions. I have gotten 2 responses from McDonald’s office, both saying the problem would be looked into. Some of the questions were answered by my local VA, but one question was for McDonald’s office, and he refuses to respond, even though it is a part of a formal congressional inquiry.
To this day, I still do not know the status of what they have done to resolve this, even though I first emailed McDonald last March.
It is campaign season though. Given the lack of response from both Senators, I think I will send them an eyes only letter to their Washington offices.
I served our nation as a Marine then later as a National Guardsman. As a guardsman I attended Officer Candidate School.
I am responding in this context to the statement, “We will look into the problem.” given by our leaders by asking a question of anyone out there who also attended OCS in any form; Exactly how many pounds of rocks would a TAC officer load into a candidate’s rucksack before an extended march if an Officer Candidate told a TAC officer, “I will look into it, Sir.”
Answers will be rounded to,the nearest 50 pounds. Winner gets a rock. (hint: think LOTS)
If we are going to hold the very lowest of the low officials (a second lieutenant) of federal government accountable, responsible, and competant to provide solutions and not excuses, then perhaps VA should be staffed by Officer Candidates instead of bloated overpaid, overglorified federal clerks.
I do not expect a clerk from America or some foreign land to appreciate that America is secure because we have men and women in our armed forces that refuse to just say, “I will look into it.” I think it is because what motivates us is a very different concept. I did not join the armed services to get rich. I did it for honor and accepted a vow that promised I would prefer any other fate than dishonor.
Maybe that is the real deficiency in our VA bretheren? The see no value in honor and no profit in truth.
I have been thinking I will send a FOIA to the VACO on Monday asking them for any documentation showing what McDonald’s office has done to respond to my emails, and action taken to resolve the problem I asked them about.
Throughout this 3 year old issue at my local VA, there are 2 people that have been very professional in their jobs when responding both to me, and internally to VA management as shown in their comments in the FOIA response. One is a veteran, and the other I believe is either a spouse or mother of a veteran.
That’s not to say all VA employees who are veterans have acted professionally, but those 2 certainly take their jobs seriously and perform them in a professional manner.
Five days is good. I used 10 business days to account for a weeks vacation and a week to wade thru the 300 plus emails we return to.
When all else fails, and the chips are down, and absolutely all otjer forms of communication have been sought, there is one final weapon you can try;
In perfect two part harmony, begin singing Alice’s Restaraunt. You can get anything you want. Perhaps we should begin reform at VA by renaming it appropriately to AR (Alice’s Restaraunt). No littering please.
Yeah, but…Alice Does Not Live Here Anymore. Lights are on but the inmates are running the asylum.
I use the congressional rep that helped me get my STRs, C&P FOIA and Choice appointments. I say make congress earn their pay
When I was unable to attend to my own toiletries, walk, fix my food, or bathe myself I was entitled to in home help at VA expense but was flagged and they too simply would not respond. Months passed and my favors with friends had been used up. Fortunately a social worker paid by SSDI heard me say that and immediately dialed somebody that sounded like a long lost friend in her cell phone. It was speed dialed programed.
Within days I had a paid worker, paid by VA to assist me with all those things I mentioned that I still just could not do after a shattered right side (Harley accident, sob) until I grew back my own strength. I walk again. The Harley is still parked…
I suggest that local social workers, not VA transplants into the community, but the ones who have lived as residents in your community may know your own local VA as well as mine did to call in a favor. The favor of course being, “Please do your job.”
so what does one do if you tried your suggestions and they still haven’t replied…in a year. Subsistance was wrongfully stopped, during a medical leave of absence while still enrolled working on a INC. Not getting necessary medical care while in training, resulting in new disabilities. MY POA/liason with the Dept of my grad studies, doesn’t get response either. No supplies.
its been a nightmare.
I have gotten to where I rely on my congress constituent rep. Have gotten more help from her than I have my VSO. She has helped me through my claim with Choice, and FOIA I don’t put much stock in government but my congressman hires good, competent, and effective people.
I suggest to implore someone to help if sometimes it feels overwhelming to write for any followup. Usually a spouse or friend can assist and will leave out the emotions one may feel upon not getting answers in a timely fashion.
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