It seem as if you are contradicting yourself. You indicated that you didn't know anyone, but later in your post you indicated that by the time you got on the Panel you was on a first name basis with at least 4 individuals at the Regional Level.
I don't know for sure, but it appears as if you are in a small Market with a few Appraisers. In Large Urban Markets Like Houston, there are probably hundreds of Appraisers on the VA's Waiting List , and the Roster is always full, and they might not add more than one or two a year (if that). Plus there is no systematic way of selecting who they add. They might claim it based on qualification, but when you look deeper into their selection process you will find that's not the case.
Just like you said, someone just "decided" to put you on the Roster. You didn't have a clue as to how you was selected, and who you was in competition with, if anybody at all. All of a sudden you was on. That's what you call a political system when the selection process is not fully defined. The process is not published, and literally no one outside of the VA's Appraisal Department known how the selection was made. There are never any publications or advertisements indicating that there will be any openings which would allow them to get several applications at one specific time, make a selection from that current list and publish the results. I've never known the VA to do that, so that in itself lets you know that the system is political, or somewhat of a closed process.