WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing 260,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is responding to recent accusations by VA leadership about claims made in a national Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaint – filed by the AFGE National Veterans Affairs Council on behalf of employees caring for veterans at the VA who do not have proper personal protective equipment, among other issues. VA leadership has said that the stories of these front-line workers are untrue.
AFGE National President Everett Kelley issued the following statement:
“Our union is giving a voice to the brave federal employees on the front lines of this pandemic who simply want basic protections for themselves and their veteran patients. To say that these front-line employees – who willingly risk their lives each day – are making false claims is insulting and reckless. Unfortunately, it’s also a predictable response.
“In March, an inspector general’s report revealed that more than half of the VA medical facilities visited did not have adequate masks and gloves to protect employees. Our member’s stories and the national OSHA complaint are entirely consistent with the findings in this report. Several AFGE locals from across the country have reported lack of PPE at their facilities. In New Jersey alone, employees at the Lyons (AFGE Local 1012) and East Orange (AFGE Local 2425) VA Medical Centers have expressed fear of reporting to work due to limited amounts of PPE. Both facilities have no or limited amounts of hand sanitizer and soap, and masks are distributed under extreme discretion – in some cases once a week. AFGE members across the country are reporting the same, sad story.”
“Despite this, the VA continues to say it has adequate PPE. But as Buzzfeed reported, leaked emails show that less than 30 minutes after VA headquarters in Washington announced it had adequate equipment, VA employees in Los Angeles were told to start rationing.
“Recently, a VA spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that ‘all employees who need PPE have it.’ But an internal memo obtained by Reveal shows the VA is issuing just one surgical mask per week to certain employees. Every employee who walks into a VA facility – risking their health to care for veterans and others – must be provided enough PPE, regardless of their position or what area of the facility they work in. One surgical mask per week isn’t going to cut it.
“The lack of PPE being faced by our members isn’t fake news, it’s the truth. And it’s time for the VA to stop trying to silence and discredit the voices of their own employees – caregivers who are crying out for help – and to get to work addressing their concerns and saving lives.
“AFGE will continue to advocate on behalf of the courageous men and women at the VA, and for all federal and D.C. government employees across the country, until they are equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment they are entitled to.”