(WASHINGTON) – J. David Cox, national secretary treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), will testify at the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing on health care funding. Cox who was a registered nurse in the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system for 25 years prior to becoming an AFGE officer last year, will call on Congress to provide assured funding for the VA.
“It breaks my heart to see what this funding roller coaster called discretionary funding is doing to the VA,” said Cox. “We are so proud of the accomplishments of the VA health care system in recent years and I fear that these gains will be undermined if discretionary funding continues.”
Without assured funding, the VA has been forced to operate on 12 continuing resolutions for the past 13 years, keeping the system in a perpetual budget crunch. The chronic budget shortfalls have left the department vulnerable, stifling needed recruitment, retention, and training. Staffing shortages have left those caring for the nation’s returning injured veterans to do increasingly more with less.
“Our members working at VA hospitals and clinics see first hand the cumulative, corrosive effects that discretionary funding has had on the VA’s infrastructure and workforce,” Cox added.
As a result of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, the VA is faced with unprecedented demand for its services from veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Recent reports indicate that 38 percent of soldiers and 50 percent of National Guard members now suffer from mental health problems, as a result of their tours of duty. These added pressures coupled with providing care for aging veterans with serious medical needs, including a growing number in need of long term care places critical pressure on the ill-funded system.
“The systematic failings of the funding process have bled out in the VA,” said Cox. “We are currently experiencing a huge upswing in the number of injured veterans in need of care. At the same time we are experiencing a workforce preparing for retirement. In five years, 44 percent of the entire workforce will be eligible for retirement. We must take immediate action to address this looming catastrophe.”