Mike Hall AFL-CIO
Spurred by the recent revelations about long waiting lists, denied critical health care for military veterans, management cover-ups and other serious problems at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and health care facilities, Senate and House leaders have agreed on veterans' health care funding and reform package.
AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. calls the legislation by the leaders of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees:
"A critical step toward getting the VA back on track so veterans do not have to wait for care….As [Senate Veterans' Affairs] Chairman [Sen.] Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reminded us, this legislation is the beginning, not the end, of a long overdue effort to make the VA strong again and address the true cost of war."
The $17 billion supplemental funding measure must be approved by both houses, which leave for a five-week summer recess at the end of this week.
The bill will begin to address chronic short staffing of doctors, nurses and support personnel. This will assist in getting veterans in the door to receive the top-notch care they have earned, says AFGE, health care that veterans regularly choose over the option of going outside the VA. Inadequate staffing has been widely shown to be the root cause of the unacceptable delays and wait-list manipulation.
It includes $2 billion to lease 27 new medical facilities and $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other staff and funding for treatment of traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma and improved educational benefits.
The bill also the gives the VA secretary new power to fire executives at the agency. Says Cox:
"Although AFGE supports accountability for VA executives responsible for wait-list manipulation, accountability does not require eliminating due process rights; we have all seen in recent months the culture of fear in the VA that intimidates and harms employees trying to speak up for veterans. Due process protects the innocent; we want to make sure we only punish the guilty."