The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) expressed cautious optimism about recently announced legislation aimed at improving staffing and addressing wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities.
Senators announced a broad proposal Thursday to address health-care failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs that would authorize spending $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses, allow veterans to be cared for outside the overburdened system and give the next veterans secretary greater authority to fire employees for incompetence.
A key provision of the deal, already approved by the House, would allow the VA secretary to clear out the department’s clotted bureaucracy by immediately firing or demoting senior officials tied to mismanaged or delayed medical care for veterans.
“As the representative of nearly 210,000 VA employees, it is essential that AFGE work closely with management to identify both short term and long term strategies for ensuring that the VA remains the health care employer of choice and that vacancies are promptly filled,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “The compromise bill drafted by Sens. Sanders and McCain will make meaningful progress toward getting our VA system back on track.”
However, AFGE was unhappy about the prospect of using private firms to provide health care services within the VA as the union clearly has a vested interest in keeping all of the work in house.
“The VA is the only health system in America built to serve warfighters and the unique conditions that afflict them,” said Cox. “Contracting out veterans’ care should be used on a very limited basis, especially given the great strides that the VA has made in expanding access for veterans in rural areas through smart investments in telehealth and mobile clinics. We need to double-down on these proven systems and deliver to our veterans the quality, specialized care they earned through their service to our nation.”