OTEEN, N.C.—Veterans Administration workers gathered at Charles George VA Medical Center here Oct. 12 to protest
the federal government leaving 49,000 staff positions vacant nationwide, while appropriating $2.1 billion to save the nearly bankrupt Choice Program, created in 2014 to pay for veterans to see private doctors if they don’t want to wait 30 days for an appointment. “Veterans want to come to the VA and not be sent to private doctors because it will take us over a month to treat them,” Brandy Morris, who has worked for the VA for 17 years and is executive vice president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 446, told the Asheville Citizen-Times. Some union activists believe the understaffing, exacerbated by the Trump administration’s hiring freeze, is deliberate. “Some in Congress want to underfund the VA so they can say that government doesn’t work,” Dusten Retcher, a 29-year old Air Force veteran who processes veterans’ benefit claims in Minneapolis, told Labor Notes. “Then they want to turn it over to the private market.” The Oteen protest was part of a series of “Save the VA” rallies that AFGE and veterans organizations have held around the nation since August.