WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Thursday, the American Federation of Government Employees hosted a summit on VA health care – VA Privatization: The True Cost to Veterans – to discuss the ongoing threat of privatization at the VA, and the dangers of forcing veterans into the private, for-profit health care system.
Led by AFGE National Secretary Treasurer Joseph P. Flynn, the summit featured speakers and panelists who spoke about the great work done at the VA, the crucial need to fill the 49,000 vacancies nationwide, and the true cost of funneling more funds into the private, for-profit sector.
"Veterans want the VA, and veterans need the VA," said Flynn. "Yet, despite the growing number of veterans, veterans service organizations, and health care professionals who say the VA is the best and only provider of care for the brave men and women who have served this country, special interest groups continue to make headway on turning of a profit off those who have borne the battle. It's a travesty and it must stop!" he said.
AFGE was joined at the summit by Reps. Mark Takano and Julia Brownley of California, Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland, Assistant National Legislative Director for Disabled American Veterans Adrian Atizado, Research Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Jackie Maffucci, Ph.D, award-winning author Suzanne Gordon, mental health primary care provider Dr. Thomas Kirchberg, AFGE Local 3930 President and health care provider Kathleen Pachomski, and AFGE Council of Prison Locals President and veteran Eric Young.
"Studies show us – and veterans tell us – that maintaining a strong and sustainable VA is the most effective strategy for meeting the unique needs of America's veterans," said Rep. Takano. "Instead of sending veterans to for-profit providers who are not trained or equipped to treat their specific conditions, we must expand the VA's capacity by investing in the people, programs, and facilities that are essential to providing veterans the care and support they deserve."
During the summit, AFGE recognized National VA Council President Alma Lee who was recently elected to her ninth term of overseeing AFGE's largest council. Lee and the NVAC currently represent 250,000 working people at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and has been leading the fight against privatization for years – with an emphasis this year on the 49,000 vacancies.
"This year we have seen unprecedented attacks on the best health care system there is for veterans," said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. "Back in January, [then nominee] Secretary Shulkin told us there were more than 45,000 vacancies at the VA – and that has continued to grow as we have 49,000 today. And instead of focusing on ways to properly staff these medical centers, clinics, and hospitals, Congress seems to enjoy finding new ways to outsource the work and craft legislation that attacks the very public servants our veterans need the most – one third of which are veterans themselves," she added.
The idea of dismantling the VA health care system and shuttering all VA clinics and hospitals is not new to 2017, as it first took hold following the revelations of long waits for appointments in 2014. But since 2014, 96.82 percent of appointments are being completed within 30 days of the clinically indicated or veteran's preferred date, and the VA has opened up 3.9 million more square feet of clinical space, which has resulted in 20 million additional provider hours of care for veterans. Veterans have reported a 90 percent satisfaction rate with getting an appointment when they want, and on average are being seen 13 days faster than the private sector; but with an additional 49,000 health care positions remaining vacant, more work must be done to properly staff the system.
"I've interviewed hundreds of veterans and their family members during my years of reporting on the Veterans Health Administration," said Gordon. "Those conversations, in addition to numerous independent studies and reports, have convinced me that the VHA is the best place for veterans to receive coordinated comprehensive care. More than that, it's the best health care system in the United States whose unparalleled level of care benefits all Americans."
Rep. Brown, who recently introduced the VA Staffing and Vacancies Transparency Act of 2017, delivered the closing remarks at the summit. He said, "I strongly oppose any effort to privatize or dismantle the VA system. We must continue our efforts to fundamentally reform veterans' health care to ensure access to timely and high-quality care - especially by improving healthcare for women, tackling persistent health disparities with service members of color, and ending the veteran suicide epidemic. We can take steps today to strengthen the VA including by expanding care in the community, increasing clinic hours and filling more than 50,000 vacancies - more than 90% of which are for doctors, nurses, mental health counselors and other clinical professionals."
"Thank you to everyone who spoke at, and attended our summit today," said Flynn. "We will never stop fighting for our veterans and the care they deserve, and we will always stand up against special interest groups to save the VA from privatization."
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SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees