(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees and veterans service organizations are continuing to voice their strong opposition to proposed changes to the Salisbury (Hefner) VA Medical Center that would eliminate emergency and inpatient health care services.
AFGE, which represents employees at the facility, held an informational picket on Friday, November 7, along with area veterans groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Rolling Thunder against the proposed changes.
In addition to calling public attention to the tragedy of denying medical attention to veterans, AFGE has also been critical of Senator Richard Burr who is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“As the ranking member of his party on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Sen. Burr has the power to make the VA reconsider its position. One would think that he would have the decency to stand with the veterans of his home state,” said J. David Cox, AFGE national-secretary treasurer and a former registered nurse at the Salisbury VA Medical Center for over 20 years.
Upon learning of the decision to try and eliminate medical services at the facility AFGE wrote to Secretary Peake challenging the VA’s authority to make such sweeping changes without a mandate from Congress. AFGE also filed a protest which the Government Accountability Office on October 21, 2008, citing the VA’s lack of authority to make such a drastic move without consulting with Veterans Affairs committee members.
“There are more veterans here than almost anywhere else in the country. For over 50 years we have been serving veterans and now they want to pull the rug out from under thousands of veterans and force them pay out-of-pocket co-pays at private hospitals. It is not right,” said Essie Hogue, president of AFGE Local 1738 which represents employees at the facility. “And, we are not going to let it happen without a fight.”
“The changes at Salisbury are particularly troubling as they appear to be related to a new national VA ‘Health Care Center Leasing Program,’” said Cox. The document describing the leasing program that the VA disseminated this spring refers to the use of contract and leasing arrangements in at least 22 sites around the country that were originally slated for new standalone hospitals. AFGE is already aware of restructuring consistent with this model in several other locations including Denver, CO and Iron Mountain, MI.