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Rally Wednesday against VA hospital closures, privatization

The following is from AFGE:

SEATTLE — Members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) VBA Local 1128, AFGE Local 3197, AFGE Local 498 and community stakeholders are co-sponsoring a rally and press conference on Wednesday, May 25 to demand better workplace conditions at local VA facilities and condemning the Veteran Affairs Department’s recommended closure of dozens of facilities nationwide. Participants will begin with a rally, taking to the streets to demand respect, fairness and dignity on the job. Following the rally, Washington VA workers will host a press conference to shed light on the ongoing unreasonable performance standards, discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying at Washington VA facilities.

TAKE A STAND — All union members and community supporters of quality VA services are encouraged to attend this rally at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday outside the Jackson Federal Building, 915 2nd Ave, in Seattle, followed by a press conference at noon.

Throughout the event, Washington VA workers also plan to stand in solidarity with union members nationwide, protesting the Department of Veterans Affairs’ recently released series of recommendations to the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission that, if enacted, would close dozens of facilities and privatize veteran care.

Seattle workers and veterans are joining their fellow AFGE members — including those in New York, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and others — in calling on President Biden and members of Congress to put veteran care first and reject any AIR Commission recommendations that call for VA facility closures.

BACKGROUND — On March 14, VA Secretary Denis McDonough issued recommendations destined for review by the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, a board envisioned by the 2018 VA MISSION Act and tasked with assessing the VA’s recommendations. The AIR Commission nominees have yet to be confirmed by the Senate and no date has been set for a confirmation hearing.

The Secretary’s recommendations boil down to closing dozens of VA medical centers and clinics and drastically cutting outpatient and inpatient services at countless additional locations. If the AIR Commission accepts the recommendations, veterans needing surgery, intensive care, emergency care and inpatient mental health care in numerous locations will be forced to rely on private, for-profit hospitals that do not specialize in veteran care, where studies show veterans get worse care at a higher cost.

The AIR Commission process also severely limits the power of Senators and Representatives to prevent proposed closures and cuts to VA medical facilities in their own states and districts. Once the recommendations are submitted to Congress, they are handled as a joint resolution. Congress is given a limited window to disapprove of the resolution in its entirety, without the option to modify individual recommendations. If they fail to disapprove within the allotted window of time, the recommendations go into effect.

The AIR Commission is merely the latest in a long series of attempts to privatize the VA. Over one-third of all veterans’ medical visits have already been sent outside of the VA system, and more than one-fourth of VA healthcare dollars have been diverted to the private, for-profit sector as a result of the MISSION Act.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

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