Lawmakers Ignore Veterans Health Care

Categories: VA, The Insider

AFGE members work tirelessly to care for our veterans, but it seems Congress is intent on placing politics over improving the VA.

Last week veterans' health care came under renewed attack as the Commission on Care released a draft of their final proposal to send many more veterans outside the VA for their care and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers sponsored a bill to make the VA a "non-profit" corporation. If passed, the bill is the next step to privatize VA services and close down the VA.

All this comes just one week after AFGE hosted a town hall event in Tomah, WI, where union members met with the public to discuss the quality of care offered by the VA and the dangers associated with privatizing our nation’s largest health care system. Despite relentless efforts of for-profit health care companies to portray the VA as broken, the nation’s world-class specialized healthcare system for veterans is not only thriving, and is the first choice for health care by veterans.

“We are outraged that the Commission on Care has concocted proposals to undermine the VA so severely that ultimately it will be dismantled," said AFGE National President J. David Cox. Privateers would be given the exclusive right to profit off the war wounds of America’s veterans, and I believe that is morally wrong.”

Cox, a 20-year nurse at the VA, said that the Commission, dominated by the Koch brothers representative and hospital CEOs that want to take over and make money off veterans' health care, showed their true colors with the initial “strawman” report. When that proved too controversial, they decided that an interim step was needed. They had to degrade the VA, undermine the staff who provides the top quality care that our veterans value so highly, and set the stage for future closing of the VA. And since their initial stumble, they haven't shied away from taking dramatic moves that impact important employee rights.

Most recently, the Commission proposed moving all VA employees under Title 38, which would reduce basic merit system protections, undermine fair pay that rewards experienced providers, and eliminate full veterans’ preference rights for many VA health care personnel.

“The VA is already short-staffed and struggles to retain the best medical talent. The VA will not be able to compete for top health care professionals if their rights continue to be chipped away,” said Cox. “Why would they want to work for an organization whose personnel system allows such arbitrary management practices?”

Another shameless attempt to politicize veterans health care is the so-called Caring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act. Introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the proposal would make the Veterans Health Administration a government-chartered nonprofit corporation and would create a private insurance company to dole out vouchers. Doing so will force veterans to struggle with unaccountable hospital corporations to get the care they earned by serving our country.

The bill comes as the Koch Brothers’ faux veterans group Concerned Veterans for America paid for dozens of people to fly to Washington to lobby Capitol Hill last week. The timing of the efforts by CVA to rally support isn't surprising. It clearly coincides with the new legislation, and ahead of the CVA-influenced Commission's final report later this month.

Instead of letting the Koch brothers dismantle veterans' health care and closing the VA, Congress should focus on addressing nation-wide short staffing at VA facilities and empowering frontline employees to do what they do best: serve America's heroes.

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