I do not work for the VA, but I am proud to belong to a federal union. On May 26, I read the letter by James Bukes defending Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki (“Problems at the VA Stem From Employees”). Mr. Bukes went on to blame federal unions and low-level and mid-level employees for the VA’s problems. Congress has been responsible for massive funding cuts that are still taking place today, but Mr. Bukes did not blame Congress, he blamed the least culpable.
These cuts have forced VA “low-level and mid-level employees” to work unrealistic caseloads. Mr. Bukes may not know it but the VA is not replacing every retiring employee. The remaining workers get to do their work and someone else’s work. Overtime is mandatory. Morale is at its lowest. Under these conditions it is not possible to “do as little as possible.” It is not correct to blame the rank and file for these problems. Hard-working federal employees have had enough mud slung at us, thank you.
Veterans Affairs has been under the budget-cutting knife since 2003. We have sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq yet did not take care of them when they returned. Budgets for veterans have been cut from the Bush years to today. Even today, Congress limits the budgets for vital programs for veterans. There have been benefit cuts and funding cuts for hospitals, staffing and equipment, for extended unemployment benefits, for jobs and training. The federal employees and the federal unions are not responsible for these cuts.
The current scandal over the VA arose when “low-level and mid-level” VA employees and former doctors revealed that injured and ailing troops waited weeks for appointments. Records were falsified to show they were treated quickly. One could guess that higher-level employees were more concerned with securing bonuses than providing their patients with timely access to care for critical medical conditions.
The “low-level and mid-level employees” Mr. Bukes referred to risked their jobs and retaliation to report these abuses. These reports may not have been made if it were not for federal unions and the whistle-blower laws they created. Federal employees, just like any other employees, have faced intimidation and retaliation when they turned in their employers.
Individual federal agencies should not retain the authority to decide all grievances and claims against the agency.