May 29, 2014
By Neal Tepel
Washington, DC – AFGE members have been reporting concerns at the Veterans Affairs Department for several years. Instead of administrators addressing the many issues, management did not act and lives were lost. Workers at the department complained to administrators that injured and ailing troops waited weeks for appointments, but VA managers falsified the records to show they were treated quickly.
Some of the wounded waited so long that they died before VA treated them. It was not until newsmedia reported on the horrendous conditions at some facilities that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki took action to review conditions at hospitals and develop a plan for improvements.
There must be strong protections for workers who speak out about abuses at the VA. on the job, says American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox, himself a retired VA nurse from North Carolina.
"These headlines aren't revealing anything that the VA didn't already know," Cox said in mid-May. "Our members have paid a heavy price for voicing concerns, submitting letters, raising issues in labor management meetings, and testifying before Congress on wait time issues and veterans' access to care, continued AFGE President David Cox.
AFGE Pittsburgh members were asked by the House Veterans Affairs Oversight Subcommittee in February 2013 to testify about an outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease at the VA hospital there. Five veterans died and dozens more had been infected. The hospital had high Legionnaires' readings for at least a year before they were disclosed. A VA manager discouraged the AFGE members from testifying.
"When they have sounded the alarm our members faced retaliation and intimidation. No one should have to choose between keeping their job and speaking out about threats to patient care. It is time for the VA to take swift action to end this culture of fear and cover-ups."