Veterans have waited months for medical appointments while the Department of Veterans Affairs union said that it needs more employees, but 1,606 employees—including many nurses—let veterans wait while they collected a taxpayer check to work on union business instead of what they were hired to do, according to VA data obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
While veterans languished, union employees spent 1.1 million hours of work time for purposes that had nothing to do with the agency’s mission, according to separate data from the Government Accountability Office. Sometimes their union work consists of trying to block managers from firing fellow employees accused of serious misconduct.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has had enough, and he says that union honchos shouldn’t be encouraging people to skip out on hospital work unless no veterans are waiting. On Thursday he introduced the Serve Veterans First Act of 2017 to do just that.
The senator hails from Arizona, where bureaucrats manipulated data to hide the fact that vets were waiting so long that many died before receiving care. The officials instead got monetary bonuses pegged to the bogus stats.
The scheduling practices were well-known from the top down, but so few of the VA’s 300,000 employees took a vocal stand against the practice that it went unimpeded for years.
Congress has long allowed some government employees to collect their normal paychecks while working on behalf of the union instead of doing their jobs. But unions have bargained for more and more “official time,” as it is known, with little pushback. Many agencies, including the VA, do little to track how it is used, and have no idea what the employees are doing with all that time.
At least 436 VA employees, mostly members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), spent 100 percent of their working hours on union activities in 2015. Meanwhile, the VA has a goal to see patients within one month, but many vets had to wait hundreds of days for medical appointments, and even died waiting for them.
Flake’s bill says that union time could only be used if they are meeting that goal.
“The VA should not pay employees for union work while veterans are forced to wait for medical care,” he said. “The VA exists to serve veterans and their families, period. If that wasn’t apparent to some VA employees, the Serve Veterans First Act will make it crystal clear.”
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