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Politicians are Trying to Sell Off Veterans’ Health Care

Veterans_defend_the_promiseIt’s just… wrong.

It’s SO wrong, I’m having a hard time writing about it.

Politicians want to get rid of the VA healthcare system, and replace it with a system of vouchers that veterans would use “to purchase their own health insurance in the private marketplace.”

And they’re justifying this by pointing fingers at the VA system’s waiting lists. Nevermind that the system has a severe staff shortage, with 41,500 unfilled health care positions. Nevermind the amount of medical care that veterans need, since more than one-quarter of them are disabled. The politicians say it’s all the VA’s fault, and they’re using it as an excuse to privatize veterans’ health care.

So… who’s going to profit from this?

Probably all those special-interest campaign donors. (The health care industry spent more than $142 million on the 2014 congressional elections. Plus another $487 million lobbying, last year.)

And… how is this going to work?

Somebody – probably Congress – is going to decide how much each voucher will be worth. And then veterans will have to find their own health care. And if that health care costs more than the vouchers are worth… well, that’s not something that Congress will have to figure out.

Because by that point, the VA will be dismantled. Gone.

And it’ll just be a problem for each individual veteran… how to cover the gap between what Congress will pay, and what their health care will cost.

— — — —

Here’s what I think:

The idea of dismantling the VA healthcare system… it’s just wrong.

The thought of private healthcare corporations profiting off our veterans… it’s wrong, beyond words.

Want to know more about profits in the health industry? Start with this piece by whistleblower Wendell Potter.

Want to know more about the Koch-founded astroturf group “driving the VA scandal” for political purposes?  Start here.

— — — —

Veterans_deserve_quality_healthcareThis past week, two polling firms – one Republican, one Democrat – joined together to poll veterans about what they want, in their healthcare system.

The results shouldn’t be a surprise: Veterans want to keep their VA health care system – but they want it fixed, and properly staffed.

Veterans want health care providers who are specialists in veterans’ health care. They need doctors, nurses and support staff who already know about the health impacts of their military service. They don’t want to have to explain themselves – explain the circumstances and the consequences of their military service – every single time they need medical care. They want health care professionals who already know.

And veterans need 100% of their care covered. If the VA is replaced by a voucher system, that won’t happen.

You can read the full poll here. If you’ve talked with any veterans recently, none of it will be a surprise.

— — — —

This morning I am remembering particularly

  • two children of a veteran who committed suicide. Suicide is one of the least-discussed “health impacts” of military service. The Veterans Crisis Line is available here.
  • the veteran with PTSD who I spent time with, last weekend. Where to Get Help for Veterans with PTSD is available here.

To all of our veterans, thank you for your service.

Helping Our Nation’s Veterans: AFGE Praises Passage of Wounded Warriors Bill

vcsPRAsset_525404_86074_c3b2c18d-97f1-4c58-b8a6-945681c4ccba_0Legislation provides additional service-connected leave to newly hired veterans

WASHINGTON – Veterans will have an additional 104 hours of sick leave to treat their service-connected issues during their first year of federal employment under legislation sent to President Obama for his signature.

The American Federation of Government Employees applauded Congress for swift passage of the legislation, called the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act. The House passed the bill on Sept. 28, and the Senate passed the House version on Oct. 26, sending it to the president for his signature.

“AFGE thanks Sen. Jon Tester of Montana for shepherding the bill through the Senate so quickly,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “This bill will make the federal government a more supportive work environment for veterans transitioning out of military service. Too often, veterans are unfairly removed from federal service during their probationary periods. This helps level the playing field for them.”

The legislation will provide veterans who are 30% or more service-connected disabled with an additional 104 hours of sick leave for treating their service-connected issues during their first year of federal employment.  Once the president has signed the bill into law, the Office of Personnel Management has nine months to implement it.

“Veterans should not have to face the difficult choice of missing a doctor’s appointment or risk losing their job,” Cox said.

The House bill, HR 313, was introduced in January by Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts with bipartisan support. The bipartisan Senate bill, S 242, was introduced in January by Tester and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

Budget Cuts Could Make Arizona Town a “Welfare City” [VIDEO]

Sequestration hits home for Ft. Huachuca workers as cuts threaten community;
AFGE urges swift passage of recently-announced two-year budget deal

FT. HUACHUCA, ARIZ. – The threat of sequestration and further federal budget cuts has employees at Fort Huachuca and Army bases across the country bracing for the worst, as a new video from the American Federation of Government Employees illustrates.

Fort Huachuca, located near the U.S.-Mexico border in Sierra Vista, Ariz., already has lost 1,100 civilian positions during the past 18 months due to budget cuts, says Katie Rasdall, president of AFGE Local 1662.

In response to sequestration and ongoing budget cuts, the Army plans to cut civilian staff at Fort Huachuca and more than two dozen other bases by another 30% between now and 2020.

“If sequestration continues and we start to plan for the 2020 budget cuts, there won’t be anything left here,” Rasdall said.

Mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, sequestration would force the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to make more than a trillion dollars in automatic spending cuts to programs and services over 10 years. DoD leaders have warned that sequestration will erode the nation’s defense capabilities and put the nation at risk.

AFGE supports the bipartisan budget deal announced Monday that would suspend sequestration for the next two years and provide much-needed increases in military and domestic spending.

Fort Huachuca already is seeing the effects of the federal budget cuts on area businesses and service providers who depend on the base and its workers for their own living. Job cuts at the base have taken their toll on the housing and real estate markets in Sierra Vista, residents say.

Long-time residents like Fran Kosinski, a military retiree and current member of AFGE Local 1662, say families won’t be able to make ends meet if the cuts continue.

“We’re going to become a welfare city, basically,” Kosinski says.

For more information, visit www.afge.org/DefendOurJobs.



Largest Federal Employee Union Hits New Heights as AFGE Membership Hits 300K

AFGE Logo 2 “Remarkable achievement” amid political attacks on labor unions, working people, union president says

WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees has reached 300,000 active members for the first time in modern history, a historic milestone that caps 24 consecutive years of membership growth. 

“This is a remarkable achievement, especially in light of the continued threats to labor unions in general and public sector unions in particular,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.  

“In a political climate that is becoming increasingly hostile to organized labor and the rights of working people to bargain collectively, federal employees understand that there is tremendous power in coming together in the workplace and speaking with one collective voice.” 

AFGE reached the 300,000 member mark on October 26, 2015 as an employee at the Federal Bureau of Prisons joined the union. AFGE reached 200,000 members at the end of 2002. The next benchmark is 500,000 members.  

“Everyone who is a member of AFGE joins because they want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Cox said. 

Cox encouraged federal and D.C. government employees who do not yet belong to AFGE to consider joining today. Employees can sign up at www.afge.org/join.  

“Being a union member means looking out for everyone in the workplace, not just your own self-interests. It’s about lifting up those individuals whose voices are otherwise silenced. It’s about joining together in solidarity to fight for better working conditions not just in your own workplace but in workplaces across the country and around the world,” Cox said. 

Growing the union is one of the four main objectives of AFGE’s Big Enough to Win plan, which is the union’s roadmap for the next decade. AFGE has added new organizers to help locals with recruiting efforts, held Organizing Institutes and train-the-trainer sessions to improve our organizing efforts, and held many recruitment drives at workplaces across the country. 

“We have gotten to where we are today by building a culture where organizing occurs every single day of the year,” Cox said.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

Tamara’s Tale: Transgender Veteran Fights for Equal Rights at Work (VIDEO)

Tamara’s Tale

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) just released this powerful new video about one transgendered woman’s fight against workplace discrimination.

Since she was very young, Tamara Lusardi has been familiar with a life of service. She is a self-described “Air Force brat” who grew up to serve in the Armed Forces, and later, as a public servant. She’s a member of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1858 in Alabama and works as a civilian employee with the Department of Defense. She is also transgender.

Despite her disabled veteran status and career of public service, Lusardi was met with discrimination at the worksite. Her supervisor often refused to acknowledge her as she wished and she met resistance when trying to go about her day like any other employee.

But Lusardi didn’t back down or let others continue to tread on her dignity. In 2014, with the help of AFGE and the Transgender Law Center, she fought back against the workplace discrimination and won.

Her case set an important precedent in the federal government for other transgender employees. Learn more about AFGE’s advocacy for LGBT issues at the AFGE Pride 2015 page and read AFGE’s Women’s and Fair Practices Departments Federal Employees Transgender Model Policy.

Workplace discrimination of any kind is wrong and all workers deserve respect and dignity in the workplace.  Collectively we must work to strengthen our laws to ensure that members of the LGBTQ community are protected from workplace discriminations.

Video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1ee049xHmw&feature=youtu.be


Federal Union Leader Says Senate Budget Plan Cuts Wages for Working People

Federal employees would see 5.5% pay cut under proposal, AFGE president says

WASHINGTON – Federal employees would be on the hook for billions of dollars in cuts to their take-home pay and benefits under a budget plan issued today by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said.

“Senate leaders have doubled down on the vicious budget cuts proposed a day earlier by their House colleagues,” President Cox said. “Their vision for the future means more financial pain and sacrifice for millions of hard-working Americans who serve the public day in and day out.”

Both the Senate and House budgets for fiscal 2016 would require federal employees to contribute substantially more of their wages toward their retirement without getting any additional benefits in return. This would result in a 5.5 percent cut in salary for most current employees.

That 5.5% pay cut would mean a $1,757 per year loss for a nursing assistant caring for veterans at the Sheridan VA Medical Center in Sen. Enzi’s home state of Wyoming.

“If Chairman Enzi wants to talk about helping working class people with a straight face, he needs to explain how someone caring for our nation’s wounded warriors is supposed to support his or her family when their senator is so focused on cutting their pay,” Cox said.

“Federal employees already have seen their wages and benefits slashed by nearly $160 billion under the guise of fiscal austerity,” Cox added. “When is enough going to be enough?”

“Slashing the wages and benefits of government employees who have devoted their lives to serving the public isn’t a plan for growing the economy. On the contrary, it’s a sure-fire way to lower the living standards for working class people who have already paid a steep price during the economic recession,” Cox said.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

New Video: AFGE Women’s Coordinator Fights for Equal Rights

In latest documentary, AFGE member and D.C. Investigator Audrey Townsend discusses fighting for equal pay for women

AFGE VideoWASHINGTON – For Audrey Townsend, the fact that women get paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts isn’t just a statistic. It’s a call to action.

As a women’s coordinator for American Federation of Government Employees Local 383, Audrey serves as a spokesperson for all of the female District of Columbia government employees who aren’t receiving equal pay for equal work.

“My job is to represent them and to represent to the D.C. City Council that women deserve the same equal pay as men,” she says. “I would ask them, Would you want your daughter making less than her brother? It’s important that everyone have the same equal playing field, without gender being a factor.”

Audrey shares her story in the latest documentary produced by AFGE, which is the largest union representing federal and D.C. government employees. The documentary series is part of AFGE’s year-long campaign, “I Am AFGE,” to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of the women and men who work for them every day.

Audrey’s passion for improving the quality of life for all people extends to her job with the D.C. Department of Human Services, where she investigates reported cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation involving vulnerable adults.

Through her job, Audrey helps protect the city’s most vulnerable residents from being left in a living situation that could result in abuse and possibly death.

“Members like Audrey not only perform a public service in their day-to-day jobs, but also by representing our union members to ensure equality in the workplace,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “The employees we represent in the District of Columbia touch every resident’s life in one way or another, fighting to ensure D.C. residents have a government that works for them.”

Audrey says she gets just as much from AFGE as she gives. AFGE provides her with regular training on workplace discrimination and equal employment rights, so she can pass on that information to other members.

“AFGE empowers me to be who I am so I’m able to represent other people. AFGE provides a platform for me to get up and to represent those who may not have a strong voice,” she says.

Audrey’s story is one of 15 short-form documentaries being released by AFGE through the end of the year, highlighting individual federal employees who carry out important work across the country.

All of the videos are being posted online and distributed to hundreds of news outlets across the country. The campaign also is being promoted through social media, an employee photo contest and other events.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

Union Member and Correctional Counselor Stands for Safety at Federal Prisons

I AM AFGE Screenshot

AFGE member Nathan McCasline stresses need for safer work conditions at federal prisons in latest AFGE documentary

WASHINGTON – Correctional officers inside federal prisons carry no weapons. Most are not even allowed to have pepper spray, and officers only recently won the right to wear protective vests. They often work alone – just one officer for every 130 to 150 inmates.

That’s why the top concern for correctional counselor Nathan McCasline is the safety and security of his fellow officers and staff. Nathan is president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 510, which represents Bureau of Prisons employees at Federal Correctional Institution-Edgefield, a medium-security prison near the South Carolina-Georgia border that houses more than 1,700 male inmates.

“As a union official, it is my duty and it is an obligation to do all I can to make sure that the workplace is as safe as possible so that at the end of the day, that officer can go home to his family,” Nathan says.

Nathan shares his story in the latest documentary produced by AFGE, which represents Nathan and more than 37,000 Bureau of Prisons correctional officers, nurses, teachers, and other staff. The documentary series is part of AFGE’s year-long campaign, “I Am AFGE,” to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of the women and men who work for them every day.

“Our correctional officers put their lives at risk every day they go to work, and unfortunately some have lost their lives while in the line of duty,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “They should not have to fear going to work, and their families and loved ones should not have to worry that they might not come home. That is why AFGE and our Council of Prison Locals have launched the Safe Prisons Project to improve working conditions for Bureau of Prisons employees. They watch over some of America’s most dangerous inmates; the least we can do is watch out for their safety.”

The Safe Prisons Project has three main goals:

  • Increase funding for the Bureau of Prisons to address chronic understaffing issues that put officers in danger;
  • Expand the Pepper Spray Pilot Program to all federal prisons so correctional officers can defend themselves; and
  • Support mandatory sentencing reform by backing the Smart Sentencing Act of 2013 (S 1410 and HR 3382) to reduce overcrowding of our prisons.

“What the union does, it gives us the opportunity to be able to get the equipment we need, to try to fight to get the staffing we need,” Nathan says. “The union also helps us get our voice up on Capitol Hill to let them know we need additional people to be able to come and work this job.”

Nathan’s story is one of 15 short-form documentaries being released by AFGE through the end of the year, highlighting individual federal employees who carry out important work across the country.

All of the videos are being posted online and distributed to hundreds of news outlets across the country. The campaign also is being promoted through social media, an employee photo contest and other events.

“AFGE represents tens of thousands of law enforcement officers at the Bureau of Prisons and other federal agencies who put their lives on the line every day,” President Cox said. “They and all other government employees have dedicated their careers to serving the public. This campaign is our way of thanking them for their service and reminding Americans of the valuable work they do.”

Los Angeles TSA Officer Shares His Story in Debut “I Am AFGE” Documentary

AFGE member and LAX Officer Victor Payes recalls harrowing Nov. 1 shooting, threats to TSOs and flying public

WASHINGTON – An American Federation of Government Employees member who serves as a Transportation Security Officer at Los Angeles International Airport and witnessed the aftermath of the fatal Nov. 1 shooting there shares his story in the debut video for AFGE’s documentary series, “I Am AFGE.”

Victor Payes raced to the airport as soon as he heard the news that a gunman had opened fire at the airport, fatally shooting his coworker Gerardo Hernandez and wounding two other TSA officers and a civilian. Victor wasn’t scheduled to report to work for another three hours but he knew he had to be there to support his colleagues and serve his country.

“The shooting had happened at 9 a.m. By four o’clock we were back to business,” Victor says in the AFGE video, which is being released today.

The shooting was a stark reminder to Victor and his colleagues of the reason why TSA was created in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: to protect the American public from harm. It also highlighted the threats that security officers face every day in doing their jobs.

“As time has gone on, unfortunately that threat has not just developed to the American public, it’s developed as a threat to us as well,” Victor says. “That serves as a reminder and a reinforcement to us that we’re there for more than just a paycheck. We’re there truly to provide a service to the public.”

A son of immigrants, Victor Payes takes pride in his job because it allows him to provide for his family while giving back to America.

“As an AFGE member, working at TSA, I know millions of people count on us to make sure they make it to their destination safely, and I’m proud to say that we do our job to make sure they get there safely,” he says.

Victor’s story is the first to be featured in AFGE’s year-long campaign to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of the women and men who work for them each and every day. The centerpiece of the “I Am AFGE” campaign is 15 short-form documentaries that will be released every three weeks through the end of the year, highlighting individual federal employees like Payes who carry out important work across the country.

The campaign kicked off last week with the release of a two-minute video that highlights the invaluable services federal employees deliver and explains how federal employees have much in common with the citizens they are sworn to serve.

All of the videos will be posted online and distributed to hundreds of news outlets across the country. The campaign also will be promoted through social media, an employee photo contest and other events.

In addition, a special toll-free phone line has been established to record and share testimonials from federal employees or citizens who value the services that federal employees provide. The number to call is 1-844-IAM-AFGE (426-2343).

“AFGE is proud to represent the more than 45,000 TSA officers who protect our skies each and every day under demanding and sometimes dangerous circumstances,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “They and all other federal employees are the most dedicated workers you could ever have the fortune of meeting. This campaign is our way of shining a light on them and reminding the public why the work that they do matters.”

AFGE Issues Top 10 List of Actions Obama Should Take to Help Federal Workers

Union issues response to President’s call to action in State of the Union address

AFGE Logo 2

WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest federal employee union, has outlined 10 issues President Obama can address today through executive order to improve the federal government’s workforce.

The Top 10 list comes in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he pledged to act without legislation “wherever and whenever” possible to expand opportunity for American families.

“These are concrete actions President Obama can take right now to address inequalities that currently exist in the federal workforce, while improving accountability and saving taxpayer dollars,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.

The list:

1.      Align locality boundaries so hourly and salaried federal employees who work in the same location are treated the same when it comes drawing local pay area boundaries.  No private firm that pays geographic pay differentials treats its hourly and salaried employees differently in this respect and the federal government should follow suit.  The disparate treatment of federal workers who work side-by-side for the same employer is unfair and unproductive.

2.      Extend to Transportation Security Officers the same disciplinary appeal rights enjoyed by most federal employees, including Transportation Security Administration managers. Currently, TSOs are limited in their ability to appeal adverse actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board, instead having to rely primarily on an internal disciplinary review board within TSA.

3.      Immediately stop the Department of Veterans Affairs from downgrading low-wage positions, many of which go to veterans and disabled veterans. These downgrades, dubbed a “reclassification” by the agency, cut thousands of dollars annually from already paltry salaries, and when applied to current workers, cause reductions in salary and retirement benefits and degrade services to veterans.

4.      Free agencies from the Office of Management and Budget’s arbitrary constraints on the size of in-house workforces, so that they can instead manage by budgets and ceilings. If agencies have work to do and money to spend, there is no reason why federal employees cannot be used. Currently, these performance decisions are being dictated by arbitrary workforce caps and cuts.

5.      Provide agencies with a long-awaited costing methodology to govern the insourcing process and encourage them to look for opportunities to save money through intelligent insourcing.

6.      Direct agencies to expedite compliance with inventories of service contracts and integrate them into budget processes, so agencies have the same control over service contract spending that they have already over federal employee spending and can systematically identify bad contracts or contracts that cost too much.

7.      Direct the Department of Defense to stop using borrowed military manpower, which is resulting in scores of hard-working civil servants – many of them Wounded Warriors – being replaced with more expensive, less experienced military personnel.

8.      Ensure that the administration is ready to issue a rule to implement the statutory reduction in the annual cap on taxpayer subsidies on contractor compensation. In June, the cap will be reduced to $487,000 assuming the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council has issued the necessary rule.

9.      Support allowing Bureau of Prisons correctional officers who work in highly dangerous areas of federal prisons to routinely carry pepper spray to defend themselves if physically attacked by violent inmates.

10.  Order the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw its proposal to radically overhaul the federal poultry inspection system by removing most federal inspectors from the slaughter line and turning over inspection activities currently performed by federal inspectors to untrained plant employees. The cost-cutting plan would endanger the health and safety of employees and the American public by allowing plants to increase their line speeds up to 175 chicken carcasses per minute. This means the lone remaining federal inspector on the slaughter line would have one-third of one second to examine each chicken carcass for disease, infection and contamination.

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