As Largest In Nation, Muskogee VA Benefits Office Works To Aid Veterans

Wednesday, July 13th 2016, 1:01 pm
By: News On 6

The Veterans Affairs regional office in Muskogee is giving News On 6 a behind-the-scenes look at its operations.

The VA benefits presence in Muskogee is the largest in the nation. Every day, the call center gets between 10,000-60,000 calls.

Since 2008, all veteran benefit calls have come through the call center in Muskogee. The benefits services cover education, disability, pension, rehabilitation and employment.

In Oklahoma alone, more than $1.5 billion is paid each year to veterans for those benefits.

In past years, the VA has come under fire for taking too long to shell out the benefits. Representatives say a few years ago, there was a huge influx of veterans getting out of the military, so the need for service increased all of a sudden.

Over time, they say improved technology has helped cut down on the backlog and expedite response times. Now the Muskogee office ranks second in the nation for its timely service to veterans.

"Our ultimate goal is to provide services -- whether it's education, weather it's rehabilitation, compensation services to veterans that are timely and accurate -- and treat we deliver every benefits that they are entitled in a way that is respectful and honors their service," Jason McClellan of Department of Veterans Affairs said.

Vietnam veteran Bryan Hooper has used VA services since 1970.

"I was wounded in Vietnam," Hooper said. "I was in the marine grunt platoon commander in 1969. So when I got back to the United States I was rated at 10 percent for a gunshot wound."

Since then, he's faced cancer, hearing loss and much more.

"They've always been very prompt and professional in their handling of my claims and questions," Hooper said.

Not everyone agrees.

The Muskogee benefits office covers veteran education, disability, pension, rehabilitation and employment claims.

"The volume of work is staggering," McClellan said. "No doubt but we have a lot of advances over the last few years. Our ultimate goal is to provide services, whether it's education weather it's rehabilitation compensation services to veterans that are timely and accurate and treat we deliver every benefits that they are entitled."

To change that employees worked mandatory overtime.And the filing system changed from paper to electronic.

The changes dropped backlog claims from 600,000 to 8,000 -- 92 percent.

"These folks are doing the very best job they can," Hopper said. "And when I see all the negative stuff on the news, they are most certainly not talking about Oklahoma."

VA representatives say they aren't perfect but are constantly working to better veteran experience.