WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is strongly urging the House Veterans Affairs Committee to oppose legislation that would direct veterans at risk of suicide away from the VA and to unregulated, private health care providers.
“Outsourcing clinical care services for veterans at risk of suicide through this proposed grant program will undermine veterans’ well-being, not improve it,” AFGE Legislative Director Alethea Predeoux said in a Dec. 4 letter to the committee.
The legislation AFGE opposes, HR 3495, is scheduled for markup today by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The bill would allow private entities to receive unspecified levels of funding from the VA to provide clinical care to veterans without any coordination or accountability to the VA or taxpayers.
“Fragmented care and unrestricted grants to unknown providers and outreach organizations are not in the best interests of veterans. The VA treats the whole veteran and is the national model of integrating primary care and mental health care. Every veteran deserves that high level of care,” Predeoux wrote.
AFGE strongly supports alternative legislation drafted by Committee Chairman Mark Takano of California that would establish a grant program for non-clinical services directed toward at-risk veterans, while ensuring that clinical care continues to be provided through the VA’s existing telemental health program and Community Care Network.
The proposed grant program would establish safeguards against misuse of grant funds and include labor representatives on an advisory panel that would consult with stakeholders on administration of the grant program. Chairman Takano’s legislation is to be considered by the full committee today as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to HR 3495.