By TIM ROWDEN
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 96 members, veterans and their families recently held an informational picket outside the John Cochran Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in St. Louis to protest a proposed plan that could close many VA hospitals across the country in favor of privatizing services.
The Commission on Care, a group that was created by Congress to recommend ways of improving veterans’ health care, recently submitted its final set of recommendations
AFGE says the proposal would significantly weaken the VA’s world-class health care system and pave the way for privatization and future closures of VA medical centers, sending veterans to for-profit hospitals for care.
AFGE represents 230,000 VA doctors, nurses, psychologists, benefits specialists, and other workers across the country and has been organizing rallies across the country to alert the public, and the President, that privatizing VA health care will greatly harm veterans’ services at a higher cost through for-profit providers.
AFGE says the recommendations would destroy the veterans’ health care system, leaving millions of veterans without the integrated care they rely on. Instead, AFGE says, veterans would be left with a drastically reduced quality of care, higher costs, less access and a system unaccountable to veterans and taxpayers.
For example, AFGE says only 13 percent of mental health providers in the private sector are properly prepared to treat veterans for conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Diane Clines, president of AFGE Local 96 in St. Louis, said veterans with PTSD, spinal cord injuries and other service-related health issues rely on the VA’s expertise for their health care.
“We don’t’ want these proposals getting any more momentum than they have at this point,” Clines said.
The message is clear, she said: “Don’t close the VA, keep the promise that was made to our veterans and keep the resources that we need to get the job done. We have really good people that care about veterans, that take good care of our veterans, and they’re saying ‘Give us the resources to do the things that we need to do our jobs.’”