Local News

VA workers protest plan to privatize veterans care

Posted July 1, 2016 4:31 p.m. EDT
Updated July 1, 2016 6:23 p.m. EDT

— Dozens of Department of Veterans Affairs workers rallied Friday outside the Fayetteville VA Medical Center, protesting a proposed overhaul of veterans' medical care.

The Commission on Care, a panel created by Congress two years ago amid concern over long wait times for care at VA centers nationwide, is expected to recommend next week privatizing care for millions of veterans.

The American Federation of Government Employees says the move would close 12 to 15 VA hospitals across the country.

"You might call it privatization. I call it closing VA medical centers," said J. David Cox, president of the local unit of AFGE, who worked 25 years as a nurse at the Salisbury VA Medical Center.

"You hand someone a voucher, and you don't know how much that voucher's going to be for and say, 'Go buy what it will buy you,'" Cox said. "After you've used it up, that's all you get. That's all you get."

The AFGE has organized similar protests at VA centers across the country in recent days.

A spokesman for the Commission on Care declined to comment until the panel's report is released.

The Fayetteville VA hospital once had the second-longest wait times nationwide to see a doctor – more than four times the national average of seven days, according to a 2014 audit. An outpatient clinic that opened last fall has taken some of the stress off the Fayetteville VA hospital.

"At least, if they are in a line here, they're only standing in a line behind another veteran, not behind 2,000 people who are not veterans that didn't put their lives on the line for this country," Cox said.

Some veterans also said they would prefer to be treated at a VA hospital than going elsewhere for care.

"A lot of times, there are actual veterans who work in there. Not to take away from the privatization, but who knows a veteran better than a veteran?" veteran Robert Randles said.

"We don't need to be closing the VAs," veteran Marvin Sutton said. "A lot of veterans come here for comeraderieship. They come here to go to the cafeteria to have lunch."