When Gulf War veteran Eric Young was medically discharged from the U.S Army in 1993 as a 60% service-connected veteran, he knew that he could trust the doctors and medical staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs to get him back on his feet.
And like millions of veterans all across the country, Young received the best quality medical care that the department could provide. That's why Young, now the president of AFGE's Council of Prison Locals, was so concerned when he saw more and more veterans returning from conflicts overseas, and less health care workers to pick up the load.
"You can have the best technology and systems in the world, but if you don't have enough doctors and nurses to use them to deliver care, you won't get anywhere," said Young. "This is not a complicated issue, just do the math."
Last year, when it was revealed that wait times had spiked, Congress authorized billions in new funding for staffing and facilities. Today, the VA is seeing more patients than ever before while continuing to deliver quality, integrated care designed just for veterans.
Still, there are more than 40,000 job vacancies at VA medical facilities across the country. But instead of focusing on the needs of our veterans, Congress has inexplicably turned their attention somewhere else: to taking away the basic workplace rights of all VA employees.
This summer, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1994, a bill designed to revoke the due process rights of VA employees. By taking away these workers' union rights, the bill would allow managers in the VA to arbitrarily fire employees or retaliate against them for speaking out about management abuses and other problems at their workplaces.
"Due process is the reason this country was founded, the reason it's great," Young explained. "To be able to take that away from the people who take care of the people who give us freedom is absolutely deplorable."
Young says the laws are distracting people from the real problem at the VA: understaffing and lack of resources. He cited years of quality health care from his doctors in the system, and their commitment to their patients.
"Many of the people who took care of me could've retired long before, but they loved what they were doing taking care of veterans," Young said.
But instead of fixing the problems at the VA, Congress is only making matters worse by introducing S. 1082, the Senate companion bill to H.R. 1994.
Passing S. 1082 and taking away due process rights from VA employees wouldn't just hurt the veterans receiving care. As Eric explained, it would hurt the veterans who have returned from serving our country overseas and become staff at the VA themselves.
"The great majority of the VA employees who were taking care of me were veterans themselves," Young said. "I felt like it was a slap in the face that these people could serve our country, and yet these politicians could take those rights away."
Even more dangerous, if Congress is able to cut back fundamental rights for employees at the VA, Young fears that government employees in other agencies will face the same fate.
"If people could just fire people at will because they don't like them, or if they filed a grievance to redress a wrong...I just think it's sickening that someone could come up behind them and fire them for no reason, and that individual can't challenge that action."
VA care givers are far too valuable to endanger by allowing arbitrary firings and retaliation against whistleblowers. That's why S. 1082's should never see the light of day.
Instead, AFGE is supporting Senator Blumenthal's bill (S. 1856), which is the only proposal to provide true accountability to the VA health system. The measure gives the Secretary of the VA the power to immediately fire any employee posing a threat to veterans' care, but preserves the vital due process rights of our honest, hardworking VA caregivers.