RICHMOND, Virginia – It’s been a tough week for the Virginia Employment Commission after a dazzling government report uncovered troubling agency-wide issues that were, in large part, crucial in helping Virginians get through the pandemic.
It’s even harder for the tens of thousands of Virginians who are waiting for their claims to be assessed.
This includes an unemployed hospital worker who says apparently no one at VEC can get to the bottom of her case.
Denise Atkinson-Gary has been in limbo for almost a year and a half because the Virginia Employment Commission failed to act on her jobless claim and even sent conflicting determinations on her eligibility.
“I called, but it’s difficult because you can’t get in touch with them,” Atkinson-Gary said. “When I used the chat feature, I was right at the start of the queue. It just cut off.”
The housekeeping worker was fired by McGuire VA Hospital in April 2020 after an ankle injury prevented her from performing heavy work and was told there was no work that could accommodate him.
The VA initially misclassified her termination date, but since then the VEC has offered conflicting advice on the rare occasions she has spoken to someone.
“The representatives I spoke to admitted that they dropped the ball on my claim,” Atkinson-Gary said.
She actually received two letters that were sent the same day last April that offered two different views on her eligibility for benefits: one said she was, the other said she was not. was not.
Like many Virginians, Atkinson-Gary was shocked to learn from a recent government surveillance report how deep the chaos at VEC is. Over 100,000 complaints remain unresolved, 46% of adjudicator positions, those who decide if you get benefits, are vacant, call centers only answer a fraction of calls and a system upgrade IT is over eight years behind schedule.
Atkinson-Gary says she’s wondering about responsibility at VEC. She clarifies that she actually emailed the woman who’s been running it for seven years. To her surprise, VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess responded.
“We spoke by email,” Atkinson-Gary said. “And she assigned a person to me, but it fell through the cracks again.”
Atkinson-Gary says the exchange defined his VEC experience.
In response to an email about Atkinson-Gary’s situation and that of another claimant, VEC spokesperson Joyce Fogg replied:
“If you resign due to a health problem, your application must be reviewed by an assistant. If you are unable and unavailable for work due to a health problem, you are not entitled to insurance. unemployment If you do not have COVID-related to a separation, you are not eligible for the PUA. If you are found ineligible for benefits, you can appeal. These two applicants have been contacted and have been contacted.
Atkinson-Gary acknowledges that at the onset of the pandemic, her underlying health condition and having a child at home because schools were closed prevented her from working.
She now has a plea for Commissioner Hess.
“My message to her will be when you pass someone’s claim to someone, respect it and make sure it runs smoothly and is taken care of and we are not swept up”, Atkinson-Gary said. “Just stay on it. That’s what I’m personally going to ask him to do.”
Atkinson-Gary says she is appealing her case to VEC.
CBS6 has repeatedly requested for several months now to speak with Ellen Marie Hess.
Governor Northam says he has full confidence in his performance, but has resisted making it available to the media.