VA’s Misinterpretation of Law Endangers Veterans, Employees

Categories: VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs is obviously not buying the Department of Homeland Security’s slogan, ‘If You See Something, Say Something.’

That’s because it prohibits doctors, dentists, registered nurses, physician assistants, and other healthcare professionals from sounding the alarm about things that could lead to medical errors and patient harm – excessive mandatory overtime, staffing shortages, or lack of proper training.

If you were a veteran, would you want to be treated by a doctor who’s overworked or helped by a nurse who has not been sufficiently trained due to staffing shortages?

The VA currently has nearly 50,000 vacancies, and the agency is not in a hurry to fill them as the administration is focusing on sending veterans to for-profit private hospitals. It’s their plan to dismantle the VA little by little and finally privatize it. Veterans themselves are overwhelmingly against privatization.

That’s why AFGE, which represents VA employees – 1 in 3 are veterans themselves, supports a bill, H.R. 1133, that would improve veterans’ care and hold VA accountable for following their own policy. The VA continues to impose policies that prevent VA health care professionals from bargaining over routine workplace matters such as schedules, reassignment, and proper payment for weekend and evening work, a right currently afforded to their counterparts within the VA, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Prisons.

This extreme and unreasonable interpretation of the law is not what Congress intended when it passed Section 7422 of Title 38 in 1991.

H.R. 1133, the VA Employee Fairness Act, was discussed at a recent hearing in which AFGE Local 3930 President Kathleen Pachomski testified.

Pachomski told members of Congress that these medical personnel covered under Title 38 have very limited collective bargaining rights that make it nearly impossible for them to challenge VA’s violations of pay laws, unsafe working conditions, and its own policies. Unequal application of pay laws severely hurts the VA’s ability to recruit and retain doctors, nurses, and other health care providers. It deprives veterans of full protection against improper and unsafe care.

“Opponents have argued that legislation to fix the 7422 problem creates new bargaining rights. This is not correct: H.R. 1133 and similar legislation merely restore equal bargaining rights consistent with Congressional intent,” she said.

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