CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A 59-year-old Chesterfield man says he's not convinced recent court action taken against the Virginia Employment Commission will change much.
After all, he's been waiting for his benefits for quite some time, and there's no indication his case will see results anytime soon.
"There has been no communication," said Richard Burks. "You couldn't get through anyway: no feedback no letters, no nothing. You call the 800-number and they just said there was an outstanding issue. What does that mean? I have no clue."
Burks has been waiting more than four months for the VEC to explain why he hasn't been getting his benefits. He says a pandemic now in its 16th month should be enough time for the agency charged with keeping Virginians going through tough times to get its act together.
"It's very frustrating," said Burks. "Every time you call that 800-number, and then you hit the number two prompt, it says, ‘all our agents are busy, call back later.’ Later? Later for what? To get the same message. If [CBS 6] hadn't contacted me, I was going to go down to the VEC and stand out in front until I found adjudicator, an adjudicator to help me out. That's what it's come to."
After being laid off by ADT Security in January because he said an underlying health condition left him exposed to customers who were not taking safety precautions, he actually got benefits for two weeks.
Then nothing. With no word as to why.
By chance, weeks later, he managed to make a virtual appointment with a VEC employee who informed him that someone at the VEC had entered his address and email incorrectly.
"I know where I live. I know my email address, so it was how they entered it," Burks said "So, at that point, she faxed me a form to update everything. I updated it, because they said there was a lot of fraud going on. I get that. So they wanted me to resend all of my information. I did, and she said that she would forward it on. But three weeks later, no feedback."
It turns out, that the woman he spoke to, said she could not help him. She said he needed a "deputy" to actually make any changes that could resolve his case. That's something we have heard over and over again: that it's nearly impossible to reach anyone at the VEC, and when you do, that person cannot actually help.
With weeks turning into months without any benefits, despite that limited contact, Burks says money is getting tight.
"I have a loving wife and supportive family," he said "And, you know, I was able to save a little bit of money from working. But when you got a mortgage and car notes and that kind of stuff, it drains a lot of money. I've been able to get by, but this has been 13 weeks."
Burks has a plea for the VEC, one that has been echoed by hundreds of CBS-6 viewers, for an agency seemingly unmoved by both a judge's order and Governor Northam's request weeks ago that it speed up its claims and appeals process.
"I understand that there was something like $57 million in fraudulent money paid out in the state of Virginia," said Burks. "I do my homework, I do my research. I get it, But you have to have a process in picking out those that should be honestly compensated through the benefit. I heard something from the governor that by October I think it is, they're going to have it up to speed? Some folks can't wait till October. I'm more fortunate than others but, you know, it is still hampering me, too."
We sent Burks' case information to VEC spokeswoman Joyce Fogg. She did not respond.
We have also asked each week for the last two months to speak with VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess, who was reappointed to that post by Governor Northam in 2017.
Neither Fogg nor Hess has ever responded to those requests.
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