The Veterans Benefits Administration aims to talk to hundreds of thousands of veterans in a series of town hall meetings, telephonic town hall meetings. They’ve been taking place every few days since last week with more to follow. VA Undersecretary for Benefits Paul Lawrence joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin to describe what he’s hearing and telling the veterans.
Tom Temin: Dr. Lawrence, it’s good to have you back.
Paul Lawrence: Hey, great, Tom, thanks for having me back.
Tom Temin: How many people have you had engaged so far in these calls?
Paul Lawrence: I’ve done them in 13 states and it’s over 350,000 veterans. So it’s really surprisingly popular and get a lot of good questions. I enjoy talking to veterans because they pose the questions live. Hearing their issues, trying to solve them and then quite frankly, as leaders, trying to figure out how they happened to prevent that from happening again.
Tom Temin: So these, for them then, are places they call in by telephone, it’s not a video conference.
Paul Lawrence: That’s correct, it’s a toll free call and number and then we talked to the veterans. I speak for a few minutes about what’s going on. Then I open it up to questions. Try to get about 20 questions during these tele-town halls. Some I’ll answer because they’re general information. Many require follow up from our team because they’re case specific. We don’t want exchange personal information over the phone. So between us or the state Department of Veterans Affairs, we generally get in touch with the veteran literally within 24 hours and try to figure out how we can help them.
Tom Temin: And if you have hundreds of people on the phone line at one time, how do you know who to take a question from or who’s got a question?
Paul Lawrence: They identify what their question is, it’s screened and we try to pull them up on stuff that we think will be general interest. So for example, a lot of people would actually call and want to talk about their health care issues. I will be unable to you know, share much about that. So we try to pull those off and get them to our health care colleagues. But some that were very much interested in are some common questions about, you know, benefits, about the economic impact payments, the stimulus checks, right? About blue water Navy, stuff we know that’s on everyone’s mind, we try to do that. So if you don’t get through for questions, you at least get some information that will help you with your benefits.