Veterans Healthcare Pinned Down by Unions 'Resisting' Trump ⋆ American Lens

Veterans Healthcare Pinned Down by Unions ‘Resisting’ Trump

Are the nation’s military veterans as important as unions? That is the essential question before Congress right now.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) seems to think they can use veteran’s healthcare to resist President Trump while pushing for larger union membership and more funding for bureaucratic systems.

AFGE Resist Trump - Unions
AFGE Union employees holding signs that say “Resist, Build, Rise, Vote.”
Not About Healthcare or Veterans

In the first of many capitol hill showdowns, the national government workers union is worried about protecting their jobs while veterans are worried about their health and staying alive.

With a much-broken system, veterans are now being sent to outside care facilities not associated with the Veterans Administration (VA) to reduce the treatment backlog. Many of these veterans are stuck waiting longer than 30 days for treatment.

But President Trump ran on a platform of getting veterans better treatment, and the battle lines have been drawn. He now has to fight against national labor unions to deliver on his promises.

“And if they’re not doing their job, the veterans are going to go to private doctors, private hospitals. We’re going to reimburse those doctors and those hospitals, and you’re going to get the greatest service of any veterans in any country because you deserve it.” – Donald J. Trump September 15, 2015

It’s About Control
Senator Elizabeth Warren
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) 

AFGE grew their rolls of workers at the VA under President Obama’s last few years in office from roughly 345,000 in 2013 to 377,000 workers in 2016.

Republicans and Democrats both agreed that the growth was needed to handle the increased demand of a post 9/11 military at war.

But now, with a Republican President in office, the unions are resisting Trump and they are playing games with Veterans lives.

Veterans aren’t waiting for a fiery speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren to call this “blood money” or to shout out on the senate floor that National Labor Unions want veterans to die. That is just not going to happen.

Unions Tone-Deaf on Backlog

In 2012, the VA backlog in Winston-Salem, NC was bad.  So bad in fact that the Inspector General was concerned that the floor might collapse due to the over-stacked backlog of health care appeals and veterans trying to get care.

Veterans Cases Wait Processing
2012: Thousands of backlogged cases in Winston-Salem North Carolina. Each one of the files is the medical history of a veteran waiting for care.

Again in 2014,  it was revealed that hundreds of veterans had died waiting for care. That scandal resulted in the resignation of retired General Eric Shinseki, himself once a wounded veteran.

Since then, thousands more have been identified by the VA’s Inspector General here, here, and here.

Related: Opinion: Desperate VA Reform Needed in North Carolina

Secret wait lists, bad conduct, and mismanagement filled the headlines for nearly two years before Trump came to office.

Swamp Thing

AFGE is resisting additional funding for this year’s 30-day treatment costs. They would rather have that money go to their employee bonuses, facilities and to hiring more workers.

When pressed for answers, they blame the issue of sub-standard employees on a lack of supervisory controls; not on the workers themselves.

Like it was ripped straight from the headlines of The Onion, only a bureaucracy of government union employees could make this argument:

“When poor performers are not dealt with it is not because the civil service laws or procedures are too difficult to utilize. It is because managers do not want to put forward the effort to properly document poor performance so that they can remove or demote these people.” –AFGE Union Statement

These are the same civil service laws that unions lobbied for in previous administrations. These are some of the same laws that inevitably led to the death of thousands of veterans waiting for care. These are what they identify as both the problem and the cure.

So, earlier this year Representative Phil Roe (R-TN) ripped the unions after learning they were spending $212,000 of salary per year for three doctors that only conducted union business and never treated patients.

Those physicians and 343 other full-time employees spend 100% of their time on union activities and not treating patients, nor administering benefits, or reducing the backlogs.

In fact, a 2014 OPM study that found more than 1.1 million hours of employee activity was spent exclusively on union issues during normal business hours as veteran cases stacked up.

The use of official time was deemed so egregious, the General Accounting Office was called in to specifically assess time-keeping at the VA. Their report did not help the situation, citing time-keeping procedures at the department were not “standardized.”  It’s entirely possible that 1.1 million hours in 2014 could have been higher.

Veteran Service Organizations Join The Frey

Some Veteran Service Organizations (VSO’s) such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a George Soros funded organization, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Disabled American Veterans are siding with the unions. This is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease. Some VSO’s rely on unions to keep their organizations afloat with local membership drives are staying loyal to them in return.

But the issue is forcing them to chose sides and divide their membership. For those who are new to the VA system and have been waiting for care, there is a common sense belief that the Choice program is good. For groups like the DAV who are charged with assisting veterans to navigate the tricky waters of the VA bureaucracy, the issue is less clear. Veterans like the VA- once they are in it. But getting treatment is the immediate issue and those groups are now being forced to chose sides, forced by unions. Unsavory bedfellows indeed.

So Veterans Pay The Price

Many in Congress rightly claim that no veteran should have to wait 30 days to get treated for an illness or injury.

But the ‘resistance’ must continue.

Union bosses are now actively impeding one of the most successful fixes to a problem they helped create. It is an illogical and indefensible position for the long-term benefit of the union. It makes them appear cold, selfish and heartless.

The vast number of employees work hard to care for veterans at the VA.  It is those who spend time politicizing and focusing on the betterment of the unions that are choking-out the best options for vets. Only time will tell if their gamble pays off. Meanwhile, veterans pay the price of brinksmanship.

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The Staff

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