WASHINGTON, D.C.--The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is outraged by the recent admission by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of a $2.6 billion shortfall in its health care budget. In its advocacy on behalf of veterans and the VA workers who care for them, AFGE has worked for years to shed light on the fact that health care for veterans is severely under-funded, causing hardship to our veterans, who were promised quality healthcare after serving their time in the military.
"Like canaries in a coal mine, our members who work for veterans in VA medical facilities and in the Veterans Benefits Administration have been telling of these shameful shortfalls to whomever would listen," said AFGE National President John Gage. "Unfortunately, many in Congress chose to believe the VA's voodoo economics instead of the sober words of concerned doctors and nurses. As AFGE officials have repeatedly told Congress, budget problems and the resulting staffing shortages have plagued the VA for quite some time. Staffing cuts and financial strains are causing long waits for doctor appointments, have caused the cancellation of surgeries for budgetary reasons, and sometimes lead staff to treat veterans on equipment rigged for purposes other than its original intent.
"It seems that every time amendments have been offered that would restore a measure of funding to the VA health care system-- such as those sponsored by Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), and Rep. Bob Filner earlier in the session-the House has inexplicably voted them down," Gage continued. "Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is right when she says, 'This [shortfall] didn't have to happen.'
"To add insult to injury, some in Congress are actually considering helping the VA further drain its shallow pool of resources by taking up legislation that will earmark funding, taken from the budget for veterans health care, for cost-comparison studies used in the process for outsourcing federal jobs," says Alma Lee, president, AFGE National VA Council. "If this happens, the already weakened VA medical system will be crippled at a time when an influx of new veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will desperately need the high-quality mental and physical health care, tailored to the needs of returning warfighters, that only the VA provides."
Under current law, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the entity that operates the VA medical system, is prohibited from using its funds for conducting the cost-comparison studies that set the stage for contracting out. VA management is seeking to take millions from its own health care services to put into the hands of the private management consultants who conduct these studies.
"This is no way to treat the men and women who have pledged to protect and serve our country. Our veterans deserve better and our government can do better by our veterans," Lee added.