Largest Union of VA Employees Praises Actions to Improve Health Care Access New hiring, whistleblower initiatives are good steps, yet culture of fear still exists at agency

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Federation of Government Employees today applauded President Obama's announcement detailing efforts to improve health care access for veterans and their family members, but cautioned that much work remains to eliminate the culture of fear permeating the Department of Veterans Affairs.

President Obama's Aug. 26 announcement detailed 19 executive actions being taken to improve outreach to service members, veterans and their families. Several of these actions are in response to revelations that VA managers and supervisors manipulated wait time statistics to hide the fact that many veterans were not being treated in a timely manner.

"By hiring additional frontline providers and support staff and strengthening protections for employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing, the Obama administration is on the right path toward fulfilling the promise that this country made to our service members and the federal employees who care for them," AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.

The VA is launching a new recruiting campaign this week to fill critical shortages in health care workers, including doctors and nurses, at many VA facilities. The VA also is providing training to about 10,000 schedulers to ensure veterans and their family members are taken off waitlists and seen by medical professionals as soon as possible.

"AFGE looks forward to working with the new VA secretary on the new hiring initiative and sharing our frontline expertise on recruitment and retention of experienced providers with the secretary's office, VISN directors and local medical center directors," Cox said.

The VA also has reaffirmed and strengthened its commitment to protecting employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse at the agency. Many frontline employees have lived in fear of blowing the whistle on mismanagement due to an established history of retaliation.

"The executive actions and other steps being taken by the VA are moving us in the right direction, but it's going to take time before employees trust that they can speak out without risking their jobs," AFGE National VA Council President Alma L. Lee said. "We have seen too many instances where the VA retaliated against frontline employees, who only have the best interests of our veterans at heart. Until the VA starts taking these complains and concerns seriously, nothing will change."

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

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SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees



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