WASHINGTON – Today, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), AFL-CIO, applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to defund the nine-member Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission – which was to consider closing and privatizing a large portion of the current VA health care system – and instead, allocate those funds to help homeless veterans.
Initially, the House Military Construction and VA appropriations bill included $5 million in new funding for the AIR Commission; however, last week Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) introduced a bipartisan amendment with two dozen cosponsors to defund the commission and reallocate its funds to the Homeless Veterans Program. The House passed the amendment Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 238-191, and then passed the underlying funding bill. The bipartisan majority approving the amendment to defund the commission included 43 Republican members.
“On behalf of the 700,000 government employees AFGE represents, a third of whom are veterans themselves, I applaud Rep. McGovern, Rep. McKinley, and the bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives for putting the needs of America’s veterans first,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “As the number of veterans eligible for VA health care is expected to increase, Congress must appropriate funds to fully staff the VA, modernize existing hospitals and clinics, and build new facilities – not spend millions in taxpayer dollars to close them on the basis of faulty and outdated market assessments.”
AFGE has strongly opposed the AIR closure commission and cautioned against the dangers from VA mass closures and privatization for veterans, military families, and the nation’s health care system. Last month, a bipartisan group of Senators announced plans to block the confirmation of the AIR Commission, and more recently the House adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to repeal the Commission’s authority.
“While the blocking and defunding of the closure commission is a win for those who rely on the VA, we must continue in the fight against privatization of VA health care and prevent privatizers from auctioning off veteran care to the highest bidder,” Kelley added. “The data consistently show that veterans receive a higher quality of specialized care at the VA with lower mortality, that veterans prefer to be treated by VA providers, and that the VA’s integrated healthcare system yields better results than the private sector at a lower cost.”