(WASHINGTON) – In response to Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson’s recent resignation announcement, the National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) which represents over 150,000 Veterans Affairs (VA) employees announced the following statement.
“The ensuing changes in the department represent a crucial opportunity for the Department of Veterans Affairs to reexamine its framework,” said Alma Lee president of AFGE’s NVAC Council 53. “Our members in the VA provide care for more than 5.8 million veterans, it is critical that we take this opportunity to accent our strengths and address the system’s critical failures of chronic budget shortfalls, inadequate resources, and staffing shortages. We believe this is an opportunity for significant change.”
The VA is facing unprecedented demand for its services from veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to reports from the Department of Defense (DoD), more than 3,500 service members have been killed and over 25,000 servicemen and women have been wounded in action in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom and one out of every three veterans returning from the Global War on Terror are suffering from PTSD. These added pressures coupled with providing care for the complex health needs of aging veterans, including a growing number in need of long term care has placed critical pressure on the system.
“As the employees’ representative, we are committed to working with the new leadership in a meaningful way to provide essential, expert care to our nation’s veterans,” said John Gage, national president of AFGE. “As the VA employee union, we have an obligation to ensure that our veterans receive quality health services and actively advocate in their best interest.”
Throughout Secretary Nicholson’s tenure the rank and file employees of the VA actively expressed their concerns over the adequacy of healthcare being provided to veterans. These employees, many of whom are veterans themselves, have been at the forefront veterans’ healthcare advocacy by leading the fight against privatizing health services and contracting out within the VA system.