A new report from the Capital Research Center finds that many veterans were put at risk as a result of health care officials doing union work full-time during the Veterans Affairs scandal.
“While veterans of the U.S. armed forces wait for health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is paying hundreds of its employees to work full-time for labor unions,” the report explained.
The practice, known as official time, allows federal workers, who also hold union leadership positions, to engage in union-related activities outside their normal jobs, such as contract negotiations and workplace grievances while still getting paid.
The report stated, “The VA actually has more employees doing union work full-time than it has staff members working under its Inspector General (IG), who is supposedly the VA’s watchdog.”
The report also found that one of the immediate consequences of the VA engaging in official time was there weren’t enough employees to help sick and injured veterans in an appropriate amount of time.
In the Phoenix VA alone, “although 1,700 veterans sat for months on a secret wait list, three VA employees never showed up to the health center and yet still received full, taxpayer-funded salaries.”
These employees instead were “working full-time for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).”
“The Baltimore Veterans Health Center has the longest wait times in the nation, yet in 2012 it paid $372,674 for employees to work for unions. That included a clinical dietetic technician, a patient services assistant, a health technician, a medical support assistant, and two nurses,” the report added.
“Of these employees, two worked full time for the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), and the other four spent their time in the service of AFGE.”
The report concluded that across the country, VA workers were often paid six-figure salaries to work for unions. Many believe this led to understaffing. This includes AFGE president J. David Cox Sr.
“When we look deeper into this issue of extended wait times for veterans to receive an appointment, we have to recognize that understaffing is a major culprit,” Cox declared in a statement from May 21. “All around the country, medical facilities are understaffed, with numerous frontline care positions going unfilled. How can the VA expect to keep up with the growing needs of our nation’s heroes if it doesn’t properly staff its facilities?”
The AFGE opposes allowing veterans to seek care from outside providers, and instead calls for another increase in VA funding to address the problem.
However, the report found that many groups — like Veterans of Foreign Wars and Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan — don’t think the VA needs more funding. Democratic Reps. John Barrow of Georgia, Ed Pastor of Arizona and Joe Garcia of Florida also agree that the problems surrounding the VA were not due to a lack of funds.
The report found that “from 2003 to 2013, funding to the VA soared from $27.7 billion to $57.3 billion, a 106 percent increase. Yet in that same period, the number of VA patients increased only 30 percent.”
Official time is a common occurrence across many government agencies. In fact, a report from the Office of Personnel Management found that in 2012, a total of $157 million in taxes were used so that federal workers could do union work as opposed to their actual job.
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