Washington — American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) members who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) are decrying staffing shortages, inadequate training, contracting out and other problems during a series of nationwide town hall meetings held by the Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission.
The commission is an independent, bipartisan body created to study the benefits and services intended to compensate and assist disabled veterans, service members and their survivors for disabilities and deaths attributable to the military. Its members are appointed by the president and leaders of Congress.
“Given that we weren’t invited to testify at these meetings, it was important to mobilize VBA employees nationwide to ensure that the commission heard from people in the trenches,” said Marilyn Park, an AFGE legislative representative. “These employees need to have a stronger voice in VBA policy decisions because they know the best way to get the job done.”
Since February, the commission has held town hall meetings in various cities including Tampa, Fla., San Antonio, Chicago, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Boston and Atlanta will host meetings later this year. During the meetings, VBA employees have used the public comment periods to decry staffing and training problems, an overall lack of resources, contracting out, and efforts to link VA disability with Social Security disability.
“There’s a concern about contracting out jobs,” Kathleen Hurst, an AFGE member employed at the VBA, told the commission at its San Diego meeting. “When you contract out, the contractor’s goal is to get the biggest bang for the buck. These aren’t just claims or cases we are talking about, they’re veterans. VA and VBA employees are passionate about their commitment to grant benefits to veterans in a timely fashion.”
The commission’s charter to conduct its study will end on Oct. 1, 2007. Once its work is complete, the commission will produce a report summarizing its findings.
“AFGE is deeply committed to veterans’ issues,” said Park. “We hope the commission will take our concerns as seriously as we take our commitment to veterans.”