Rep. Jeff Miller's Plan to Break VA Employees

Categories: VA , The Insider

It’s been proven time and again that VA providers have consistently outperformed for-profit hospitals in the private sector. Veterans, researchers, and medical school professors recently came together to confirm it. Yet profit-hungry special interests and their web of associates in Congress are making a desperate attempt to twist the facts, trash the VA, and take advantage of our veterans for personal financial and political gains.  

A proposal introduced by Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida, dusted off from previous attempts to dismantle up the VA, is just the latest attempt to break VA doctors, nurses, and other providers, the critical staff that keep the VA in operation.  

Tens of thousands of vacancies for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are left unfilled at VA hospitals across the country. Demoralizing the existing workforce would put the VA in a worse shape, which could lead to more problems. The crippled VA would be just another excuse for Miller and special interests like the Koch Brothers to shut down the VA. 

Here’s how Miller wants to destroy the VA in his latest proposal:  

1. Encourage managers to abuse power and retaliate

Divide and conquer the VA by encouraging managers to abuse power and retaliate against employees. It’s not uncommon for an employee whose job performance has been marked excellent to, all of a sudden, face demotion or removal after blowing the whistle on things like doctor shortages or simply because the manager doesn’t like his or her politics. Under Miller’s bill, this employee stands little-to-no chance of challenging the removal because of Miller’s plan to weaken due process rights and the appeal system. 

2. Undermine whistleblower protections

Miller pretends to be fair to employees by sending them to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). OSC mainly reviews retaliation and whistleblower cases. MSPB handles discrimination cases and adverse actions such as removals, suspensions of more than 14 days, and reductions in grade or pay.  

But both agencies are tiny and understaffed, and would be unable to handle even more work from an agency like the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are already handling the entire government’s cases and Miller’s bill would usher in a new wave of cases without additional resources.  

This will undermine the whole system and the employees who seek justice. It usually takes the MSPB months or even years to reach a decision. But under Miller’s bill, if the short-staffed MSPB can’t finish reviewing an employee’s appeal within 60 days, the employee would be demoted or removed.  

You are correct to be alarmed. 

OSC won’t be better off under Miller’s bill either. Because it deprives employees of their due process rights, more employees will clog the OSC with whistleblower claims to have more rights. OSC’s workload has doubled since 2008 while the agency budget has gone up only by 31% during the same period. 

And employees are set up to fail from the start. Under Miller’s bill, the employee has only 10 calendar days instead of 30 to respond to the charge.  

3. Target your wallet

Your doctor has just relocated to your city to fill a position that has been left vacant for far too long. Her specialty is much needed in the rural area you live in. To make her move easier, the VA reimbursed the costs of moving. Everything is fine until a manager with a grudge decides to target her and tries to hit her in her wallet by trying to recoup that money based on a false claim. The case would drag on and distract her from her patients (if you worked during a shutdown, but didn't receive pay, you know how worried you were about making ends meet). Under Miller’s bill, that insecurity would become the status quo. 

The VA already has ample authority under current laws to recoup improperly made payments. Employees who make unauthorized claims can also be held liable and subjected to criminal charges. 

Miller’s open-ended recoupment process would simply empower bad managers to bully, retaliate, discriminate --hurting both employees and the veterans under their care. 

Miller's Bill is a Betrayal to Veterans 

Veterans themselves have said it loud and clear multiple times that they want the VA and VA employees to take care of them. Yet Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, bullied members of the Commission on Care who don't support VA privatization, aligns himself again and again with the fake veterans group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) funded by the Koch brothers, and pressured the Commission to accept CVA's position to privatize the VA. It is strange but true, the fake veterans group is a member of the Commission, along with private hospital CEOs who stand to benefit from shutting down VA hospitals. 

“To be veteran-centric, we must allow veterans to seek care outside of the department’s walls,” Miller has said

Considering his long line of attempts to privatize the VA and shut down VA hospitals, it’s not a surprise that he's dusted off failed ideas and repackaged them as a new proposal that drives away physicians and other employees skilled during a time of critical staff shortages.  

"Here we go again," said AFGE President J. David Cox. Sr. "Chairman Miller once again is claiming that firing is the key to VA success while he openly calls for dismantling the VA." 

AFGE strongly opposes Miller’s bill, H.R.5620. For more information on what we’re doing to fight Miller’s and others’ attempts to shut down VA hospitals, visit www.afge.org. 


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