Urged on by top leaders and several lawmakers, hundreds of unionists marched on Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in D.C. on Tuesday, demanding full staffing and full funding of the agency – and denouncing GOP Trump administration schemes to privatize it. “We need a fully funded fully staffed VA and we won’t settle for anything less!” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka proclaimed at a pre-march rally on Feb. 13 outside the labor federation’s headquarters, a block away from both the VA and the White House.
The crowd of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) delegates in town for their union’s 1,000-person legislative conference, joined in exuberant chants, and waved signs proclaiming “Hire – Don’t Fire!” “Privatize = Promise Dies” and “Proud Vets Serving Vets”. At least one-third of VA’s workers, if not an outright majority, are veterans themselves...click below to read more
The Trump administration and its GOP congressional allies want to outsource more VA care from the VA hospital system to private hospitals and clinics, which do not provide the VA’s holistic care or specialized care for special service-connected illnesses. Surveys show 90 percent of veterans oppose outsourcing and privatization of care.
The outsourcing plan pushed by the billionaire Koch brothers and other corporate interests is the first step, the unionists contend, to privatizing all veterans care, and degrading it in pursuit of profits.
Campaigning against the privatization plan, which the GOP calls “choice” in its budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, was a key cause of the legislative conference delegates as they hit Capitol Hill after the rally and march.
“Three hundred million Americans” are on the VA workers’ side, declared Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a former Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chair. “This is about providing care to veterans, the elderly, the poor and the sick.”
“The administration wants you to believe outsourcing means medical care is being done more efficiently and more economically. The only ones who will benefit are those with their hands out,” said AFGE VA Council President Alma Lee. “The federal government should never be turned into a private corporation.”
- Mark Gruenberg, PAI News; photos by Keith Mellnick