WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs employees are holding dozens of rallies outside VA hospitals this week and next to protest plans to privatize veterans’ health care and shut down VA hospitals and medical centers.
The Commission on Care, a group that was created by Congress to recommend ways of improving veterans’ health care, is close to finalizing a set of recommendations that would significantly weaken the VA’s world-class health care system and pave the way for privatization and future closures of VA medical centers, sending veterans to for-profit hospitals for care.
The rallies are being organized by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 230,000 VA doctors, nurses, psychologists, benefits specialists, and other workers across the country who provide health care and other vital services to our military veterans.
“Even though the vast majority of veterans oppose privatizing the VA, there are many people who would benefit financially from dismantling the VA and forcing veterans into a network of for-profit hospitals and insurance companies,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr., who was a VA registered nurse for 20 years.
The Commission on Care includes four high-level private hospital executives who would profit from privatization and not a single mainstream veterans service organization. Actual veterans groups are unanimously opposed to any proposal that would privatize veterans’ health care.
“VA employees across the country are speaking out against these corrupt business interests with a clear message: it’s time to put people ahead of profits,” Cox said.
“Veterans should not be reduced to a line item on a budget sheet. They have served our country with honor and distinction, and their medical care shouldn’t be left to the whims of profiteers and claims adjusters.”
AFGE locals have organized 38 rallies to date in 19 states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Photos from some of the rallies can be viewed by clicking here.
The VA is working hard to resolve the staffing shortages and wait times that emerged in 2014, hiring 14,000 health care workers and overhauling its patient scheduling system, Cox said. In the past two years, 97 percent of appointments in the VA were completed within 30 days, with an average wait time of 6.5 days to see a primary care doctor – compared to 19.5 days on average for non-VA patients in the private sector.
“Our country makes a solemn promise to every man and woman who volunteers to serve in our military: that they will be treated with dignity and respect when their service is complete,” Cox said.
“One of the best ways to honor our veterans is to ensure they continue to have access to specialized, quality health care through the VA’s integrated network of medical centers and clinics.”