(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees announced today that it will continue to fight proposed changes to the Salisbury VA Medical Center, despite claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs that the process has been halted. The VA announced yesterday that it would not implement any proposed changes to the Salisbury (Hefner) VA until 2013, leaving the facility as a fully operational medical center. While union officials applauded the work of Senator-elect Kay Hagan and Congressmen Mel Watt and Larry Kissell for fighting the proposed elimination of health care services at the hospital, they criticized the VA’s continued commitment to privatize the medical center.
“We applaud Senator-elect Kay Hagan and Congressmen Mel Watt and Larry Kissell for standing with veterans and VA employees throughout this ordeal, but this fight is far from over,” said AFGE national secretary-treasurer J. David Cox, who worked as a registered nurse at the Salisbury VA Medical Center for over 20 years. “Senator Burr and VA Secretary James Peake are claiming that they want to do what is in the best interest of veterans and save this hospital, but all they have really done is committed to giving it a slow death. We refused to let that happen and we’ll fight everyday until 2013 to make sure it doesn’t.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to eliminate inpatient, emergency, and surgical services at the medical center in September, but backed away after protests from the veterans’ community and VA employees. AFGE also filed a protest which the Government Accountability Office on October 21, 2008, citing the VA’s lack of authority to make such a drastic move without consulting with House and Senate Veterans Affairs committee members..
“There are more veterans here than almost anywhere else in the country. For over 50 years we have been serving veterans and now they want to pull the rug out from under thousands of veterans and force them pay out-of-pocket co-pays at private hospitals. It is not right,” said Essie Hogue, president of AFGE Local 1738 which represents employees at the facility. “And, we are not going to let it happen without a fight.”
“The changes at Salisbury are particularly troubling as they appear to be related to a new national VA ‘Health Care Center Leasing Program,’” said Cox. The document describing the leasing program was disseminated by the VA this spring and refers to the use of contract and leasing arrangements in at least 22 sites around the country that were originally slated for new standalone hospitals. AFGE is already aware of restructuring consistent with this model in several other locations including Denver, CO and Iron Mountain, MI.