Nurses and Veterans to Rally in Washington, D.C. to Protect Veterans’ Health Care at the VA
Cite Secretary Wilkie’s Failure to Fill 49,000 Staff Vacancies as a Deliberate Attempt to Undermine the VA and Deny Services to Veterans
RNs and veterans with Vietnam Veterans of America are holding a rally to demand that Congress and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie work expediently to provide the VA the funding and staff necessary to ensure the highest quality of care for our nation’s veterans and to restore full labor protections to nurses, said National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU).
“Study after study shows that health outcomes are better in the VA than in the private sector, even as the care is more cost efficient. This means the same dollars spent in the VA can provide many more veterans care than in the private sector,” said Irma Westmoreland, RN and NNU board member. “As nurses, we have the responsibility to advocate for our patients, and we can do that best when we are supported by a strong union. We know that a strong union means strong nurses, and that means strong vets.”
What: Rally — Protect Veterans’ Health Care at the VA
When: 11:30 a.m., Friday, March 15
Where: Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave NW, Washington DC 20571
Following the rally the nurses will make the rounds on Capitol Hill to call on lawmakers to support a package of bills nurses champion: the VA Employee Fairness Act, the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, and the Medicare for All Act of 2019.
Nurses and veterans are calling for:
- Congress to fully fund and Secretary Wilkie to fully staff the VA.
Currently 49,000 positions are vacant throughout the VA system; 43,000 of the positions are in the VA health care system. Despite the 12 percent vacancy rate, nurses are alarmed that Secretary Wilkie recently testified before Congress that filling the vacancies is not his top priority. In fact, this administration has stated the implementation of the MISSION Act, the legislation under which veterans are sent into the private sector for care, is a top priority. Nurses and veterans charge this is a deliberate attempt to undermine the VA in an effort to push veterans into the private sector.
- Congress and Secretary Wilkie to hold the private sector to same exacting standards VA clinicians must meet.
The VA is currently considering proposed rules that establish the conditions whereby the VA would pay with public funds for veterans to receive care in the private sector. Nurses oppose these rules, calling them “arbitrary,” as they are based on wait times and driving distances, and they do not demand that private clinicians meet the same exacting standards that VA facilities and clinicians are required to meet.
- A cessation of all efforts to privatize health care for veterans.
Nurses charge there is a concerted effort underway by the Koch brothers and others to starve the VA of necessary resources to diminish its capacity under the MISSION Act. Nurses contend this privatization effort is designed to push veterans into the private sector, where the price is set by the private sector, but payment is guaranteed by the tax-paying public.
- The administration to restore all union protections for nurses.
In October last year, Secretary Wilkie rejected the NNOC/NNU contract even though the nurses had spent two years coming to an agreement with the VA. Nurses say this is an illegal attack on the rights of nurses and part of a deliberate effort to eviscerate the union and eliminate the nurses’ legal protections.
“The nurses are fighting boldly against privatization, which would abandon veterans to a fragmented health care system that is not prepared or capable of caring for the unique and complex medical issues veterans face. It is no doubt because of their fight on behalf of the vets that the nurses have become targets of vehement union busting,” said Rick Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America, and a former army medic. “As veterans, we stand with nurses and, united, we will win this fight.”
“Veterans have complex conditions that require specialized care,” said Sadie Hughes-Young, RN. “We have an obligation to these veterans. Just as we pull another chair up to the table when a new family member comes along, so should we be adding services, not diminishing services to care for our own veterans. This is the promise we made to them and this is a promise we as nurses vow to uphold.”