AFGE Questions Diversion of Veterans Health Care Funding During Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort
(Washington) - As Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees meet the challenges of Hurricane Katrina by caring for victims and assisting in the relief efforts, the Senate is forging ahead with a plan that will strip the VA of already scarce health care dollars needed to relocate patients, care for non-veterans, repair facilities and reassign VA workers in the aftermath of the country’s worst natural disaster.
This week the Senate VA Committee will mark up S. 1182, the Veterans Health Care Act of 2005. Section 7 of the bill would repeal a nearly 25-year-old ban on spending VA health care budget dollars on contracting out studies [(38 USC Section 8110 (a) (5)]. Using health care dollars for wasteful contracting out studies—many of which are conducted by private management consultants— is the first step in the outsourcing of federal jobs.
This recent attempt to further drain the VA of its shallow pool of health care funding comes just months after the VA admitted to billions of dollars in budget shortfalls.
“It is unconscionable that the administration would continue its efforts to gut the VA health care budget only to give the money to private management consultants,” says AFGE National President John Gage. “The VA should be allowed to concentrate on caring for patients, repairing VA medical centers and reassigning loyal VA employees.”
Gage went on to say, “However, even as retired veterans and VA employees are being displaced from their homes and as loyal VA workers are rolling up their sleeves to help people devastated by the hurricane, the administration is ready to add to the devastation by using hard won health care dollars on programs that will destabilize the VA healthcare workplace and put veterans working in VA facilities out of work. It’s unbelievable that the administration is supporting this legislation during a time of crisis.”
According to the Office of Management and Budget, (OMB), in 2004, $110 million was spent government-wide for public-private competitions to determine whether more than 12,000 jobs could be done more efficiently by private contractors, with in-house federal workers winning 91 percent of the time. Despite this, one in three employees targeted for outsourcing at the Veterans Health Administration is a veteran
Ironically, the efforts to further drain the veterans’ health care funding budget come on the heels of the VA admitting to a $1.5 billion shortfall for fiscal 2005 and an anticipated $1.98 billion shortfall in fiscal 2006 for veterans’ health care.
In an effort to keep the prohibition against contracting out studies in tact, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) has offered an amendment that would strike Section 7 from the Veterans Health Care Act.
Additionally, in a letter sent to Chairman Craig, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), one of the first senators to anticipate the VA budget shortfalls, urged Sen. Craig to exclude Section 7 from consideration during the Committee mark up. In addition to Murray, the letter also was signed by VA Committee members Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.), Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.).
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.