A.J. Lagoe and Steven Eckert
WASHINGTON D.C. - The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to shut down an antiquated phone center and re-route calls from veterans to a modern facility in the wake of a KARE 11 News investigation.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said she was notified of the change by VA officials Thursday morning.
Klobuchar credited Air Force veteran Bob Morris and KARE 11 for bringing national attention to serious problems with a VA phone center that was supposed to handle calls from veterans appealing benefit decisions.
“Bob Morris has done a service for all veterans across the country because what he came upon was a mess,” Klobuchar said.
Earlier this week, KARE 11 revealed how Morris and other veterans searching for information about their benefits claims were being routed to one number that was disconnected and to another that rang repeatedly without being answered.
Congress took immediate notice.
After seeing KARE 11’s original report, Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) demanded answers from the VA.
“This was just an outrage and we got right on it and got the people on the phone,” Klobuchar said today. “And they are not just fixing this for Bob, but have pledged to fix it for all people in his position.”
Klobuchar says the VA told her it will shut down the phone center Bob Morris tried to call.
“They had 90,000 people going into a small call center in Pennsylvania that was an antiquated phone system and it could only handle five veterans in a queue at a time,” Klobuchar said. Everyone else, including veterans like Bob, was disconnected without warning.
Starting in May, Klobuchar says the VA has promised to route calls through a modernized national call center where wait times average less than two minutes.
Klobuchar praised KARE 11 for exposing the phone system failures that left veterans in limbo.
“I don’t think this would have happened if you hadn’t worked with Bob and brought this to the Veterans Affairs attention,” she said.
KARE 11 detailed how the Avon, MN veteran had been trying for more than a decade to get benefits for serious health problems he thinks were caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Korea.
Morris was trying to call the VA to schedule a hearing for his long-awaited appeal when he encountered the disconnected and unanswered phones.
Klobuchar says she’s also pressing the VA to expedite his hearing.
“My number one goal right now is to get Bob his hearing,” she said. “We don’t know what will happen with the hearing, but he at least deserves his day with his appeal in front of some experts to look at it.”