(WASHINGTON) The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) lauds President Obamas recent Executive Order calling for improved access to mental health care services for veterans and their families, including additional mental health staff to ensure that all veterans in crisis receive care within 24 hours. However, as the largest employee representative of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health professionals, AFGE expresses great concern over the agencys ability to follow through on this directive, in view of the Departments continued harassment of employees who speak up for patients needs.
The Presidents Executive Order goes to great lengths to improve the mental health care services available to our nations heroes, but we are extremely concerned that the VA will be unable to deliver on these standards, said AFGE National President J. David Cox. We are currently fighting for whistleblower protections for a post-traumatic stress disorder specialist at the Wilmington, Del. VA facility who continues to face intense retaliation for testifying before Congress about mismanagement and lack of mental health care access for vets. At a time when thousands of our men and women are returning from the battlefield in need of mental health services, we cannot afford to silence VA employees who speak up for their patients.
Cox has written a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking for his immediate action in ending the retaliatory actions taken against psychologist Dr. Michelle Washington. On the eve of her Senate testimony on understaffing and improper accounting measures regarding PTSD treatment of veterans, Dr. Washington had her personnel evaluation changed and lowered. Thereafter, she had her duties radically changed and veterans have had to travel much further for PTSD evaluations. Additionally, her fellow union members have faced other adverse actions as part of what appears to be a coordinated pattern of retaliation for bringing to light mismanagement at the VA.
The VA must make meaningful changes in eradicating agency mismanagement, whistleblower retaliation and take strides in supporting its workforce providing world-class care to our nations veterans, said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. The Presidents Executive Order looks to increase the number of mental health care professionals at the VA but this cannot be done if the agency continues down this path of employee intimidation and misappropriation of vital resources.