VA Policy: Access Denied Veterans Running Linux

Can I get some help from someone with more expertise? I can code HTML on the fly, but I don’t mess with scripting; I have no use for it. Yes, I know my blogs have scripting, but someone else handles that. All I write is the content and the markup. If you would like to help spread the word, feel free to plagiarize this post.

First, let me assure you that I am utterly cynical about whether I can get someone to listen, in the sense that bureaucrats not only don’t give a damn, but are frankly hostile to making the least accommodation beyond their own idea of what their job is. I rarely engage in any kind of activism because it tends to be pointless, but this is something that surely affects other disabled veterans.

Consider this webpage for contacting technical support for the My Health Vet website. There is a similar page for the rest of the VA website system, but this is the site disabled veterans use to interact with the system. While we could use the phone system, that is woefully understaffed by design, to save money (never mind the very frustrating menu system). So it’s much better for the convenience of technically inclined disabled veterans to use the website and the messaging system to simply make their various requests for service from the system.

That website is broken if you run Linux. I can log in well enough and most features seem to work about as well as you might expect from a government bureaucracy. However, if some feature doesn’t work for you, the standard method of requesting help is a bunch of FAQs written for the lowest common denominator. As you might expect, “lowest common denominator” approximates users who are dangerously close having no real use for a computer.

Experience teaches me that this is the norm for virtually all services to disabled veterans; this is how I’m treated by most everyone in the system I encounter. Most of those employees of the system are decent people, but the system itself teaches them to assume everyone is at the lowest level of competence. Their training is so thorough on this point that a significant portion of the staff cannot deal with someone who is actually rather competent.

This is what shows up on the My Health Vet website, in the sense that whoever made the executive decision about coding that website took a backwards route: They set it up to accommodate only Windows (Internet Explorer only) or Mac (Safari only). Granted, they do have some instructions for those who run Chrome or Firefox, and of course for AOL’s browser, but I have been told in no uncertain terms from their tech support that they flatly refuse to help anyone running Linux regardless of which browser.

I have discerned that at least part of this website system is contracted out to Oracle. Now, we all know that Oracle has been openly hostile to the Open Source community in general. And perhaps no one is surprised that the entire US Federal Government has shown antipathy toward open standards on the Internet. Thus, I’m not sure who to blame, and I’m willing to bet no one will take responsibility for that decision.

Here’s what happened when I tried to use that contact page: I can input everything into the proper blocks on the form, but when I type in my email address, I get a popup that insists my email address doesn’t match something inside their database. But then the scripting blocks any further action from my browser. I keep getting that popup no matter where I click. Even if I close the tab in which that page is displayed, that popup continues showing up on any other page I click on in any open tab. I have to clear my cache to get rid of it.

It happens with Firefox, Chromium, Opera and Seamonkey. I run Linux Mint 18.2 64-bit with XFCE and all of my browsers have uBlock Origin, and most have some version of a cache cleaner (usually Click-n-Clean). Chromium alone adds the animation policy extension and is set to allow animations to run once, a setting I use on all of my browsers when possible. None of that should make any difference if your script code adheres to open standards for input forms like that. That much I know because it works at bank sites, eBay, Amazon, every other major retailer site, and every social media site I’ve ever bothered to use for any length of time. I take the position that my government, having made so much loud noise about accommodating veterans and their real needs, can make that portal OS and browser agnostic. I can only imagine that their restrictive approach is more difficult and expensive than simply using open standards.

Before I escalate this any farther, I’d like to get some more expert help from someone who can examine that particular page, or perhaps someone with inside knowledge, to help me build a case for bugging my Congressional representatives.

About Ed Hurst

Avid cyclist, Disabled Veteran, Bible History teacher, and wannabe writer; retired.
This entry was posted in computers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to VA Policy: Access Denied Veterans Running Linux

  1. Jay DiNitto says:

    Ed – I may be able to give you a hand next Monday or Tuesday. I’ll email you then about it.


  2. Ed Hurst says:

    Cool; just whatever you can discern, anything will help.


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