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News - : VVA Joins Protest Over Staff Shortages at VA

Posted by Finn on 2018-02-18 08:07:07 EST

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 13, 2018

WASHINGTON — About 200 federal workers marched by Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington on Tuesday, protesting staffing shortages and what they argued were attempts by President Donald Trump to dismantle the VA health care system.

The crowd -- people shaking noisemakers or carrying signs that read, “Staff the VA” and “Hire, don’t fire” -- was organized by the American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing about 230,000 VA workers.

“We want to march on the VA,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox. “We want the secretary to hear our voices loud and clear.”

The march was prefaced by speeches from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.; Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.; union leaders; and Rick Weidman, executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America. They addressed recent firings of VA workers and Trump’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget, which targets federal employee pay and benefits. The speakers also expressed fears that Trump was attempting to shift more public funds to private entities to undermine VA health care.

Their main point of contention was VA staffing shortages. As the crowd approached VA headquarters Tuesday afternoon, they faced the main entrance and shouted, “Staff the VA.”

The union has said over the last several months that the agency has 49,000 job vacancies, but the VA argues the true number is about 13,500 fewer than that.

As of Nov. 3, 2017, the VA had 35,554 unfilled full-time positions, said agency spokesman Curtis Cashour. He added that it was “significantly less than the 49,000 AFGE cites time and again.”

When questioned about the vacancies on Capitol Hill, VA Secretary David Shulkin has cited challenges with hiring doctors and nurses, particularly mental health care professionals. The agency set a goal to hire 1,000 mental health care workers in 2017. The VA hired 900 last year, but lost 945.

Weidman argued the shortages would lead to low morale and employee burnout.

“It’s burning out our best folks, and it’s unfair to them and unfair to the veterans,” Weidman said. “We need full staffing.”

Union leaders criticized the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act that Congress passed last spring, which lowers the burden of proof to fire VA employees. It also gives Shulkin the authority to skip a lengthy hiring process to directly appoint regional leaders.

In his State of the Union speech last month, Trump praised the bill and credited it with leading to the removal of 1,500 VA employees last year.

When the bill was mentioned Tuesday, the crowd of federal workers booed loudly.

“It’s perhaps the biggest trampling of civil-service protections we’ve seen in decades,” said Randy Erwin, leader of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “Now the White House and some in Congress want to make similar changes government-wide. To them I say, ‘Hell no.’”

The rally was part of AFGE’s “legislative week,” during which union members travel to Washington for workshops and events. It aligned with the release Monday of Trump’s 2019 budget proposal.

Though the union criticized Congress and Trump’s administration for not fully funding or staffing the VA, Trump’s requested VA budget for 2019 totals nearly $200 billion and would be another in a series of significant increases for the agency over the past decade.


News - : VA secretary, other federal officials participate in national homeless count

Posted by Finn on 2018-01-29 18:50:36 EST

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 25, 2018

WASHINGTON — For Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, practicing medicine gives him a better understanding about the health care needs of the veterans he serves. On Wednesday, he tried that same hands-on approach for another daunting problem facing the VA -- veteran homelessness.

Along with several other federal employees, Shulkin on Wednesday night gathered demographic information from homeless people in and around Union Station in Washington, D.C., looking in particular for homeless veterans. It was part of a nationwide, one-night count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people across the country conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Shulkin participated in the count once before in Los Angeles, when he was the VA’s undersecretary of health.

Of the 553,742 homeless counted in the United States last year, 9 percent of them were veterans.

“When I see patients, it helps me understand how they’re experiencing the VA, and the same thing applies here,” Shulkin said. “When you’re out and you speak to people, you understand what they’re thinking and if they know what some of the resources are. If you’re sitting in your office saying, ‘I know what’s best for homeless people,’ and you’ve never spoken to one, you might get it wrong.”

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News - : President Signs VA Funding Bill

Posted by Finn on 2017-08-21 15:07:47 EDT

According to an August 12 TIME article by AP reporter Jonathan Lemire, the President, who made improving veterans care a central campaign promise, signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act. The bill, which addresses a budget shortfall at the Department of Veteran Affairs that threatened medical care for thousands of veterans, provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek private care.

For mor info click here: http://time.com/4898296/donald-trump-bill-funding-veterans-affairs/