The Department of Veterans Affairs has been making headlines lately with reports of long wait times for veterans to get care and falsifying records.
President Obama even met with VA secretary Eric Shinseki this week and has let him remain in his position but had strong words about punishing the misconduct at the agency.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union representing VA employees, blames the problems at VA on staffing shortages.
According to a new press release, AFGE members report shortages of providers and support personnel to provide timely access to veterans seeking care at most VHA facilities. AFGE says the shortages in primary care and a number of specialties, including psychiatry, are directly linked to management’s manipulation of wait list data at many VA medical facilities. Scheduling clerks consistently report that they lack the sufficient provider slots to make timely appointments. But VA’s performance standards provide strong financial incentives for managers to hide underlying staffing and resource problems by “scrubbing wait lists”.
“When we look deeper into this issue of extended wait times for veterans to receive an appointment, we have to recognize that understaffing is a major culprit,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “All around the country, medical facilities are understaffed, with numerous frontline care positions going unfilled. How can the VA expect to keep up with the growing needs of our nation’s heroes if it doesn’t properly staff its facilities?”
AFGE also points to the ever-increasing reliance on federal contractors as a key driver of growing costs at the VA. According to the Project on Government Oversight, the cost of hiring a contractor is 1.83 times more expensive on average than hiring a federal employee in the same position. Despite this vast cost-gap, the VHA system has spent billions on contract services in recent years, including a $9.3 billion contract with private health providers for its Patient Centered Community Care (PC3) initiative.