Red Cross Attention To Military Members' Needs Questioned

Sources: Red Cross Not Properly Connecting Military Members To Families In Emergencies

The American Red Cross is tasked with relaying urgent personal messages to American servicemen and women and confirming an emergency exists so they can take leave, but sources told the 10News I-Team that the Red Cross is taking longer than it used to, to confirm these emergencies.


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"I don't understand why the Red Cross took so long," one Camp Pendleton Marine said.

The Marine, who did not want to be identified, has been waiting for more than a month to get leave so he can see his mother, who is dying of cancer.

In June 2011, the Red Cross changed how its four emergency call centers operate. Sources who currently work and used to work inside the call centers said before the change, one caseworker would handle a case from start to finish -- notifying a military servicemember of an emergency and verifying the emergency so leave could be approved. However, now they said different caseworkers work different parts of a case and slow down the notification and verification process.

"You cannot piecemeal work of this nature and expect to produce quality," former Red Cross caseworker Robert Billburg said. "Cases that used to take hours can now take days; cases that used to take days can now take weeks or months."

Billburg worked inside San Diego's emergency call center for a decade. He claimed he was fired for complaining about the changes.

The Red Cross said Billburg was one of the 160 caseworkers working more than a half-million cases every year across the country.

A source provided 50 examples of confidential cases they worked since June 2011 from the San Diego Red Cross Emergency Call Center. The case files show emergencies taking the Red Cross caseworkers from six hours to 35 days to confirm.

One source described how it took 19 days to confirm a serviceman's wife was having surgery. Another said it took three days to confirm a serviceman's grandfather had a stroke, and another said it took two days to confirm a serviceman's infant daughter was having seizures.

The source who provided these files said these cases are examples of those that took longer than they should have.

The Red Cross' National Call Center Director, John Galvez, said there was never any thought that making a change to the service center's operations would decrease service. He disputed the claim that service to the military was worse now than before the change.

"Can you think of any cases that you could've handled better?" 10News I-Team reporter Mitch Blacher asked Galvez.

"Umm, no," Galvez said.

"Any regrets?" Blacher asked.

"No," Galvez said. "I'm very proud to be part of this team."

Galvez wouldn't speak about specific cases. He said the changes in the Emergency Call Center Operations have nothing to do with money or Department of Defense support.

A 2004 DOD report to Congress claimed the Red Cross' Emergency Services Program "may be obsolete." The report said the Department of Defense "no long requires ... verification of an emergency before approving emergency leave."

Many commanders still won't grant leave without verification despite the dropped regulation. The military allows this discretion.

The Department of Defense gave the Red Cross a $24 million grant in 2011 to run the Emergency Call Centers.

Galvez said 95 percent of clients whom the Red Cross Emergency Call Centers served rated the quality of service as either "excellent" or "good." He said he didn't know about the other five percent because "the Red Cross doesn't track who those people are."

When asked about the Camp Pendleton Marine who has been waiting for more than a month to get his emergency confirmed, Galvez said, "I cannot comment about any specific cases and I do find it reprehensible that anyone would share confidential military information of military families with anyone."

Galvez said he questions the release of the confidential case files because it violates military privacy, not because of the questions it raises about the Red Cross Emergency Call Centers.