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VA Denies Claims It Colluded With Union To Oppose Reforms

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The Department of Veterans Affairs countered claims that it has colluded with organized labor Thursday in opposition to those trying to reform the agency.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has held dozens of protests opposing lawmakers and critics who have sought to reform the agency, and the Cheyenne VA Medical Center in Wyoming sent out an email which appeared to promote an upcoming union protest July 6.

Veterans Affairs has been under increased scrutiny for systematic issues that left dozens of veterans dead.

“Once our union decided to do this I decided to let our community partners know,” Cheyenne VA Public Affairs Officer Samuel House told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I am not colluding with anyone. I was just letting our community partners know.”

The Washington Free Beacon first reported Wednesday that House sent an email June 24 which seemed to promote the event. House notes the intent was merely to inform employees, partner organizations and community members so they wouldn’t be taken by surprise when the protests occurred. He adds the union re-sent the email to its members.

“I wanted to make sure you were aware that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is planning a ‘Keep the Promise to Veterans Rally’ outside the Cheyenne VA gates,” House stated in the email. “To protest the Commission on Care’s proposed recommendations.”

The department issues first came to light in 2014 when it was revealed veterans died waiting for care. Unreasonable delays and questionable treatment practices resulted in federal investigations and a public outcry. Lawmakers have called for reforms to fix the issues with some even saying the department should be privatized.

House Committee on Veterans Affairs Jeff Miller and other lawmakers expressed frustration that department employees were not being held accountable. Miller blamed union control over the agency for contributing to the problems and for a lack of solutions. Additionally Sen. Marco Rubio proposed a measure that would have allowed the department secretary to more easily fire workers.

“Senator Rubio’s bill hurts veterans and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement October 2015. “You simply can’t fire your way to a solution.”

Union policies may also be to blame for the scandal beyond just defending department employees. The Capital Research Center found in a 2014 report that many veterans may have died as a result of healthcare officials engaging in a practice known as official time. The policy allows public sector workers to do union work instead of their actual jobs while getting full pay and benefits.

The Free Beacon and AFGE did not respond to requests for comment by TheDCNF.

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