(WASHINGTON)- In the wake of disclosures of environmental hazards and substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), called on Congress to provide full funding for VA hospitals and clinics. AFGE represents 150,000 employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“As more veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from complex physical and mental injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, the need for immediate care is critical. Chronic budget shortfalls and financial uncertainty put veterans in jeopardy of facing serious inequities in their level of care,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE’s NVAC Council 53.
The VA is facing unprecedented demand for its services from veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to reports from the Department of Defense (DoD), more than 3,500 service members have been killed and over 25,000 servicemen and women have been wounded in action in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. A study of over 100,000 veterans who sought medical care since returning home shows that nearly one-third may now suffer from mental health problems. These added pressures coupled with providing care for aging veterans with serious medical needs, including a growing number in need of long term care places critical pressure on an ill-funded system.
In fiscal years 2005 and 2006 the VA had a $3 billion dollar shortfall. While the waiting list for new veterans’ health care appointments doubled, forcing the current backlog of benefit claims to upwards of 400,000.
Following press accounts of substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. VA Secretary Nicholson issued a directive to VA medical directors, Mar. 7, to report on the quality of their facilities to determine if conditions found at Walter Reed exist elsewhere. The quality reports were due Mar. 14.
“The directive issued by Secretary Nicholson does not begin to address the staffing and facilities problems at the VA’s hospitals and clinics. It is impossible to report, with any seriousness, on the quality of these facilities in as little as a week. This superficial review constitutes a veiled attempt to gloss over systematic problems stemming from chronic budget shortfalls and financial uncertainty,” added Lee.
“To ensure quality services for our country’s veterans, AFGE supports transforming veterans’ healthcare from a discretionary program to a mandatory program to guarantee adequate funding,” said John Gage, national president of AFGE. “We need assured healthcare funding for our VA facilities. Veterans should not have to fight abroad and then come home to battle the political process for healthcare funding.”