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Getting your voice heard from congressional leaders

How you can get a call back from your congressional leaders in Washington. (WCHS / WVAH)

For years, we have been told to call your congressional representative if you are mad about an issue.

The Eyewitness News iTeam took a look at what happens when you actually do that and whether you can ever expect a call back from your lawmaker.

Our elected representatives are put in office with hopes they get the job done to make our lives better, whether it's health care, taxes or social issues. We expect the best from congressional leaders.

Margaret Bragg had high expectations as she placed a call to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“My name is Margaret Bragg, and I want to speak to Manchin,” Bragg said as she placed a call to Manchin.

Bragg said she contacted Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Manchin every day to voice her opinion on immigration and gun control.

The former social worker said she cannot get a direct answer from West Virginia’s congressional leaders.

“I started calling and writing and got form letters. Never felt like I got what I had to say to the person who needed to hear it,” Bragg said.

Several weeks ago, our iTeam called the publicly listed number for each West Virginia lawmaker in Congress. If no one answered, we left a message. We asked for their response rate, exact numbers on how many messages they receive and how many of those correspondences they return, such as phone calls, emails and letters.

Unfortunately, most of West Virginia’s congressional representatives did not have many answers for us.

We never heard back from Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., a republican representing West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, or Manchin.

A staff member with West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. David McKinley, said in an email he would get back with us, but never did.

Rep. Evan Jenkins’ office did respond with the following numbers. The 3rd Congressional District congressman's office sent 13,059 letters in reply to constituents. The office also helped 946 constituents resolve issues with federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration and Veterans Affairs.

Senator Capito recently told us on camera her office tries to get back to as many people as possible. But, keep in mind, she, like others get a lot of phone calls every day.

“Our office receives hundreds, possibly thousands, of phone calls a day. In the four offices I have, quite a few,” Capito said.

Brad Heflin, Director with the West Virginia Alliance for Health Care Security, said constituents should “keep calling until you get a response. They're there to hear our concerns. Keep calling - they'll get the hint.”

Heflin’s office deals with federal health care issues and is in constant communication with lawmakers. Heflin says Manchin's staff is quick to respond, but some others take longer.

During the Affordable Care Act debate, there were so many calls going to Capito’s office, lines shut down completely.

Heflin said many times a slow response from a lawmaker could be because of understaffing or outdated equipment unable to hold high volume messages.

Capito said she can’t return every single call, that's impossible. “We try to prioritize and try to answer questions as much as we can. I try as much as I can, but not as much as I should,”.

Bragg said our representatives need to try harder.

“I feel like they're all out of touch with what's happening. They forget who put them in office and they don't care. I will not vote for someone who ignores me,” Bragg said.

You heard Bragg say she received form letters from congressional leaders. She said they were more like canned responses on hot button issues.

Our iTeam did get in contact a couple days ago with our lawmakers’ press offices to find out the best way to get a response. Here's what we found out.

Jenkins’ office said the best way to get a response on a particular bill is to make sure to have the bill number. Quite often there are several bills on the same topic.

Senator Capito's office said to go to her website. There's a "share your story" page and you will get a response within two weeks. On her site, you also can find the mobile office hours. You can meet one-on-one with the senator.

Senator Manchin is briefed at the end of each work day on who called, emailed or sent a letter and tries to get a response to each person.

Congressman Mooney's office called back Monday afternoon and said they also have mobile offices. The dates and times are in the local newspapers.

You can also send us your questions to lawmakers. We frequently interview our congressional leaders in our special segment "Connect to Congress” which are posted on our website. Send it to “Questions at WCHS-TV.com” and hopefully we can get answers for you.

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