(WASHINGTON) – On Wednesday, September 24, 2008 AFGE will testify before the House VA Economic Opportunity Subcommittee on the dangers of outsourcing the processing of Post 9/11 GI bill educational benefits. AFGE along with veterans’ service organizations have voiced strong opposition to the proposal to contract out the new educational benefits.
The testimony will be delivered by AFGE member, Leonard Smith, who is a Veterans Claims Examiner and who also receives VA education benefits for his own education.
Both AFGE and the National VA Council have expressed deep concerned about the disproportionate and disparate impact outsourcing these governmental functions will have on veterans; more than 50 percent of the Education Division bargaining unit employees at the affected facilities are veterans.
“The knowledge and expertise of these career employees will be invaluable in processing the extended benefits of the Post-9/11 GI bill,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE’s National Veterans Affairs Council. “Retaining experienced federal workers and hiring disabled veterans through a fast track process to meet additional demand would be a far more effective approach to ensuring the veterans receive their valuable GI benefits in a timely and accurate manner.”
VA Secretary Peake stated in a letter to the National VA Council that the VA was conducting the outsourcing to meet the challenges of creating procedures and systems to support the new program by its launch date of August 1, 2009. Yet, the VA itself noted less than a year ago in a news release that the Education Division had, “dramatically improved its ability to process applications for GI Bill education benefits from veterans and service members.”
In fact, the VBA currently has hundreds of employees in the Education Division who already process benefits under the current GI bill – as such any outsourcing of this work amounts to a violation of federal law. “The VA’s claim that this is new work is simply wrong. It is the same job under new and old law and it’s outsourcing an inherently governmental function,” Lee added.
AFGE and the NVAC have proposed a three point plan as an alternative to outsourcing the GI bill benefits that would save tax payer money, protect federal employees and avoid violations in federal public-private competition laws. The plan includes targeted hiring of veterans, which is consistent with Secretary Peake's own recent initiative to boost veteran employment opportunities within the Department, hiring temporary employees to meet the surge in demand, and retaining current Education Division employees familiar with the processing of benefits claims.