A solution to stop our veterans from dying while waiting for medical care

A solution to stop our veterans from dying while waiting for medical care
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The Veterans Affairs Department has a simple but crucial mission that quotes a promise by Abraham Lincoln to veterans “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.”

Unfortunately, Veterans Affairs has not done a good job living up to this mission lately. Just a few years ago it was widely widely reported that thousands of veterans died waiting for care. This is unacceptable. The agency has also callously allowed countless Veterans Affairs medical professionals to perform union business rather than serve veterans. The kicker is that this union business is done at the expense of taxpayers.

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This practice, known as official time, is not cheap, either. In a report on its costs, the Office of Personnel Management estimated that Veterans Affairs employees spent more than one million hours on union matters rather than serving veterans. These activities include lobbying Congress, attending conventions, and filing grievances. In 2016, official time at Veterans Affairs cost $49 million. These are estimates that likely lowball the hours and costs spent on official time.

A Government Accountability Office report last year on official time use at Veterans Affairs found the agency lacks proper tracking and recording methods. For example, Veterans Affairs does not collect reliable data on official time. Instead, it uses estimates and or other methods to calculate official time. Because of inaccurate reporting, the amount of official time used or what activities were performed could not be determined. What we do know is that these federal employees were not serving veterans.

But things are about to change. Veterans Affairs announced this month that it “will be moving nearly 430 medical professionals from taxpayer funded union work back to health care jobs” to serve veterans. This ensures Veterans Affairs employees such as doctors, nurses, and dentists are prohibited from using official time to conduct union business and will serve veterans in their roles as medical professionals going forward.

Unsurprisingly, union officials representing federal employees were none too pleased. David Cox, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said that removing access to official time is “like asking the fire department to operate without fire trucks or a fire hose” and the “result will be just as disastrous for our veterans.”

This statement is absurd. Cox would lead you to believe that federal employees lobbying Congress on union matters or attending conventions is somehow related to caring for veterans. However, it is hard to imagine how hundreds of federal employees, including doctors and nurses who spend 100 percent of their time on union business on official time, serve the core mission of Veterans Affairs. Official time is used to negotiate union contracts, lobby Congress, and attend conventions. These activities serve the narrow interests of federal employee unions and no one else.

Eliminating official time for medical professionals at Veterans Affairs does not stop unions from using their own funds to represent their members. All this change does is make sure federal employees do the job they were hired to do. Veterans Affairs should now be applauded for putting veterans first and eliminating official time for medical professionals.

Trey Kovacs is a labor policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank organization based in Washington.