The Department of Veterans Affairs has been plagued with countless scandals over the years, with little improvement. Whether the scandal involved the falsification of waitlists, the ongoing theft of prescription drugs, or the intimidation of whistleblowers, it all traces back to a fundamental lack of accountability.
Introducing measures to hold employees accountable for wrongdoing and negligence, especially when their actions lead to the mistreatment and even death of veterans at VA hospitals, might seem like the right thing to do for most people. But that’s not the case for the unions that represent VA workers.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents roughly three quarters of the agency’s work force, has shot down nearly every attempt made by lawmakers to bring some accountability into the equation.
When earlier this year Sen. Marco Rubio introduced the most recent attempt at increasing accountability, the VA Accountability First Act, the AFGE expressed its disapproval by calling it “a union-busting bill, plain and simple.” While there is no targeting of unions in the bill, or any of the bills proposed over the years to address the issue, the AFGE and its allies perceive any attempt to change the status quo as a threat to their power.
Of course, the AFGE couldn’t thwart accountability attempts all on its own, especially when so many lawmakers and the vast majority of veterans’ advocacy groups support reform. In the last election cycle alone, the AFGE contributed $6.9 million almost entirely to political campaigns of Democratic lawmakers and the PACs that supported them. Some of Congress’ most vocal opponents of VA accountability receive support from AFGE.
Three years ago, we learned that the Phoenix VA was manipulating data and keeping secret wait lists to hide how long veterans were really waiting for care. Dozens of veterans died. In the three years since, fewer than 10 employees involved have been terminated, and those that were fired were on paid leave for almost two years before they were let go.
The Phoenix scandal is one of many like it, and there are new ones popping up across the country every month, even to this day. The employee-firing protocol that’s pushed by the AFGE makes it nearly impossible to terminate the employees responsible.
If lawmakers are serious about taking care of our veterans, they will start putting their needs before the needs of special interests. To tell your members of Congress to support the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 click here.