J. David Cox Sr. is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 670,000 federal and District of Columbia government employees nationwide, including 220,000 in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
I've dealt with extremist politicians like Rep. Jeff Miller long enough not to take his insults personally ("Opinion: Union Bosses, VA Bosses Rigging System for Failure," Sept. 5).
But after spending 20 years caring for veterans as a psychiatric nurse, and the past decade representing more than 220,000 VA employees across the country, here's one thing I take very personally: our nation's sacred obligation to serve the women and men who have worn the uniform.
Our members take that obligation seriously, too. That's why they were the first to come forward to blow the whistle on VA managers and executives who were falsifying appointment records to hide excessive wait times for veterans seeking care.
Rather than proposing real solutions to the problem of veterans not getting timely access to care, Rep. Miller chose to exploit the wait list scandal to serve his own political agenda. Miller has introduced a bill that would gut the workforce protections that empowered whistleblowers to come forward in the first place.
Miller's bill is part of a concerted effort by the congressman to strip all federal employees -- not just those at the VA -- of their due process rights, allowing employees to be demoted or fired at will without any protections from partisanship or favoritism.
He also has waged an intense campaign to implement the extreme proposal by the Concerned Veterans for America to privatize the VA and dismantle the patient-centered system that veterans have endorsed time and time again.
Miller's obsession with gutting employees' rights and stripping the VA for parts has distracted the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which he chairs, from focusing on staffing shortages and underfunding issues that, if addressed, stand to make a tremendous difference for the veterans he claims to serve.
Tell me, Congressman Miller, how is silencing health care providers and shutting down VA hospitals going to improve veterans' access to health care?
A far better VA reform bill has the bipartisan support of Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chair Johnny Isakson of Georgia and ranking member Richard Blumenthal.
Even though we do not agree with provisions attacking the due process rights of VA executives, we support his Veterans First Act because it will provide real accountability at the VA without hanging an ax over the heads of honest employees who choose to blow the whistle on mismanagement.
The Veterans First Act is far from a boondoggle for labor unions, as Rep. Miller suggests -- which is why many employee groups still oppose it. Yet we believe that our veterans deserve quality health care and that they indeed must come first, which this bill would accomplish by empowering VA employees to hold bad managers and opportunist politicians in check.
With its vast network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 community-based outpatient clinics across the country, the VA provides its 5.8 million veteran patients the best health care our nation has to offer.
If Congressman Miller would focus on providing the VA with the resources it needs to serve more veterans, instead of scapegoating the very employees who deliver that care, our nation's war heroes would reap the benefits they so justly deserve.
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