March 12, 2009
Michael Victorian (202) 639-6405

AFGE Continues to Build Working Relationship with New VA Secretary

(WASHINGTON) – AFGE and the AFGE National VA Council, today, met with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. This marks the first meeting of the VA Secretary with the full National VA Council, which represents 180,000 employees in the VA. AFGE has been supportive of the new VA Secretary, applauding his nomination and swift confirmation. During the meeting, which took place at AFGE National Headquarters, AFGE National VA Council executive board members discussed with Secretary Shinseki the many challenges and opportunities faced by VA employees in fulfilling the department’s mission.

“As the VA moves towards becoming a 21st century organization it is imperative that labor and management work together to solve the department’s complex problems,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE’s National VA Council. “We may not always agree, but it is important that we are able to both come to the table in good faith.”

Over the past eight years, the VA has struggled to meet the growing needs of America’s veterans. In the Veterans Benefits Administration, (VBA), the claims backlog skyrocketed as service members returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The under-resourced agency was unable to keep pace or provide effective training for VBA employees, further complicating efforts to resolve the mountainous claims backlog. To address these systemic problems, AFGE has offered employee based solutions, such as the use of joint-labor management teams to produce more effective training programs and improved skills certification testing.

The Veterans Health Administration, (VHA), has suffered under similar staffing and resource problems, contributed to by the highly political discretionary funding process. Although this year’s VA budget was passed on time, the VA has been forced to operate on continuing resolutions for most of the past two decades. AFGE strongly supports reforming the process to ensure the long term predictability and adequacy of funding for VA health care. AFGE was encouraged when earlier this year House and Senate VA committee leaders introduced legislation, H.R. 1016 and S.423, to reform the process and implement an advanced appropriations model for future funding. Coupled with the $25 billion investment in the VA proposed in the president’s fiscal year 2010 budget, AFGE believes that the new administration and 111th Congress will honor the sacred commitment to our nation’s veterans.

“It is encouraging to see that this administration has been true to its word in meeting and working with federal employee representatives,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national-secretary treasurer and former VA nurse. “Whether on Capitol Hill or working with the White House Cabinet members, the change in tone and respect for federal workers is significant.”

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