WASHINGTON, D.C.-Despite the Administration's admission that funding for veterans' healthcare is short by billions of dollars, a powerful Senate committee is considering the diversion of millions of those precious, hard-to-come-by dollars into the hands of private management consultants. "Even as several VA facilities cancel scheduled surgical procedures for veterans because of a dire budget shortfall," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), "the Bush Administration is leaning on members of the Senate Appropiations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs to pass legislation that will funnel VA healthcare funds into the Administration's scheme to outsource jobs critical to the well-being of America's heroes."
The legislation under consideration would allow the VA to use its healthcare budget--already running $1 billion in the red for this year alone--for the cost-comparison studies that are the prelude to the contracting out of government work. The studies are conducted by private management consulting firms, and often cost America's taxpayers millions of dollars. (AFGE has learned that a similar privatization review under way at the Department of Commerce has already cost taxpayers more than $40,000 for each employee whose job is under review--and it's not over yet.)
"If the senators on this committee do the Administration's bidding, they will do so in defiance of the recommendation of nearly every reputable veterans' organization," Gage continued. "And it's not just the diversion of dollars to which these veterans object; they want their healthcare to remain in the hands of the VA doctors, nurses and medical professionals who chose to forgo more lucrative jobs in order to care for those who have laid their lives on the line for our nation."
Officials of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association and Disabled American Veterans have made statements pleading against the use of healthcare dollars for privatization studies.
"With the Administration's belated admission of this year's billion-dollar shortfall--in addition to an estimated $2.6 billion gap for fiscal 2006--the fees paid to corporate management consultants for outsourcing will come on the backs of America's vets," Gage explained. "We're not going to stand for it. Forty percent of AFGE members are veterans, and they're ready to fight this shameful piece of lawmaking.
"Every day, we hear shocking stories from members who work in the VA healthcare system--true tales of surgeries cancelled because of budget problems, equipment purchases postponed, and even two-year waits for some kinds of treatment," Gage concluded. "If this bill--this license for corporate cronyism--passes into law, the Senate will have demonstrated an unconscionable and callous disregard for those we send to war."