Press Release

Nurses Applaud Rep. Adam Schiff for Standing Up for VA Nurses & Veterans

Bill Will Improve Health Care and Patient Advocacy

Registered nurses today applauded the introduction of a bill that would improve patient care, ensure equity among federal health care workers, and enable the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recruit and retain a strong health care work force to serve the nation’s veterans.

At the heart of the bill by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is the goal of improving the democratic union rights of VA employees. The Improving Clinical Care Workforce for Our Vets Act, would reform Section 7422 of title 38 of the U.S. code, which limits the rights of VA professionals in collective bargaining.

“Denying the most basic protections to one nurse is an injustice to all nurses and can decrease the quality of care for veterans,” said Jean Ross, RN, Co-President of National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of RNs. “Nurses across the country thank Rep. Schiff for his commitment to fair treatment for all VA health care workers and for standing up for quality health care for our nation’s veterans.”

Exemptions to collective bargaining rights have been repeatedly extended by unfair U.S. government interpretations that limit nurses’ ability to speak out about working conditions that impact the quality and safety of patient care. Currently, management can leave VA RNs without a resolution to disputes that hurt patient care such as excessive mandatory overtime or assignment of a nurse to a new hospital unit without adequate training.

“Nurses need full collective bargaining rights in order to fulfill our critical role as advocates for patient needs and care,” said Irma Westmoreland, RN, chair of Veterans Affairs for National Nurses United. “As nurses within the VA healthcare system, our duty is to provide high quality care and advocate for the heroic men and women who put themselves and their health at risk defending our nation. That includes speaking up for safe staffing, working to ensure that our patients get the care they need, and being constantly vigilant on their behalf. Collective bargaining gives us the tools to speak up for our veteran patients.”

The bill would ensure that VA nurses can negotiate, file grievances, and arbitrate over issues relating to direct patient care, and would also provide them the same rights as other VA clinicians such as LPNs, nursing assistants, and nursing unit clerks as well as registered nurses (RNs) at other agencies such as the Defense Department.

"The recent tragedies at Ft. Hood and the Naval Yard in Washington DC and the epidemic in suicides and rapes in the military underscore the urgency for expanding the voice of patient advocates in all levels of care,” said Westmoreland. “VA nurses are the front line providers whose voice the bill will expand.”

National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses union with 185,000 members, represents nurses at 22 VA facilities throughout the United States.