(WASHINGTON) – J. David Cox, national secretary treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), will testify Thursday, October 18, 2007 at the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing on workforce recruitment and retention. Cox who was a registered nurse in the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system for 27 years prior to becoming an AFGE officer last year, will call on Congress to hold the VA accountable for failing to implement provisions passed by Congress aimed at keeping the system competitive in retaining and recruiting quality health care professionals.
“It was the intent of Congress for the VA to implement policies to recruit and retain the nation’s best medical staff,” said J. David Cox. “As a practice the VA has largely ignored the letter and spirit of these laws to the point where quality personnel are fleeing the system. Now, Congress must hold the VA accountable for the deteriorating workplace conditions that are forcing qualified people out of the VA and into the private sector.”
Over the past five years, Congress passed two significant pieces of legislation to strengthen the VA health care workforce by providing competitive pay to registered nurses, physicians and dentists and by offering nurses alternative work schedules with diminished mandatory overtime. Instead of honoring Congress’ original intent, the VA has continued to abuse mandatory overtime for nurses and allow local hospital directors to deny alternative work schedules and badly needed pay increases to these dedicated health care professions. In an effort to minimize employee participation, local VA officials have continually excluded frontline employees from participating in committee meetings which dictate safety, health care quality, and workplace conditions. The VA also impedes nurses who are eager to enter the VA health care workforce with long delays and unnecessary obstacles to educational assistance.
“Frontline employees know first hand how these misapplied policies affect staff recruitment, retention and patient care,” said Cox. “It’s time the VA stopped excluding its stakeholders from the decision making process and started honoring the spirit of the law.”
While the VA continues to face unprecedented demand for its services from veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, qualified professionals are leaving the department for more lucrative positions in the private sector. 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 place severe pressures on the system.
“In order to keep the promise of providing our nation’s veterans with world class care, the VA must keep the best and brightest of the medical field,” added Cox.