WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Veterans around the country are being forced to wait longer for care. Working people at the VA are struggling to do their jobs while staffing shortages are at near dangerous levels. And Congress is busy self-congratulating themselves for making it easier to fire civil servants at the VA – one-third of whom are veterans themselves.
In response to the growing lines and number of open positions at the VA, the American Federation of Government Employees will begin holding rallies around the country – starting Wednesday, August 16 – to raise awareness of the nearly 50,000 open positions at the agency, in the hopes that Congressional leaders will finally address the problem.
"For too long the hard-working men and women who have dedicated their lives work to serving our veterans have been bullied, intimidated, and abused. They have been made villains by insiders in Washington looking to push veterans out the door into ill-equipped, unprepared, private, for-profit medical centers, and it has to stop," said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.
"These faithful public servants are the ones who first brought to light that management was hiding wait lists. They're the ones who let us know when facilities are falling behind. And they're the ones who know best how to treat our veterans. Why can't Congress give veterans the support they need? Why won't Congress fill the 49,000 vacancies at the VA?" he asked.
Since January's hiring freeze was announced, VA Secretary David Shulkin has been discussing the alarming number of vacancies at the VA, and the need to fill them. "We have 45,000 job openings. That's too many," Shulkin said in January. "I need to fill every one of those openings in order to make sure that we're doing the very best for our veterans." In the following months Shulkin began an upward revision of the openings, and in May announced that there were 49,000 in the entire system – with no plan to fill them in the works.
Instead, Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which made it easier to fire front-line workers for little or no cause at all.
"We cannot allow veterans to be forced to wait for the care they deserve because Congress and the White House won't take action," said Cox. "We will be holding rallies in cities across the country to raise the awareness of thousands of open positions that no one seems interested to fill. Veterans want and need the VA, but without it being properly staffed, it'll be harder and harder to give them the care they deserve," he added.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia, including 250,000 at the Department of Veterans Affairs.