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VA Union group AFGE attempts to raise awareness in downtown Boise

Posted at 7:51 PM, May 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-17 19:55:59-04

UPDATE

Veterans Affairs said that as of March 8, there are 33,642 full-time vacancies at the VA, in a press release from a year ago former VA Secretary David Shulkin said the VA had 49,300 open positions.

"The VA has made phenomenal progress during the Trump administration when it comes to staffing," said Curt Cashour in an email. "Overall vacancies are down, VA’s vacancy rate is less than its turnover rate, and our total number of positions has increased by nearly 15,000."

The VA also said that privatization is a myth, here is a link to the info they provided on privatization.

The AFGE highlights that there are 49,000 positions that need to be filled nationwide at VA's across the country, staff shortages and the issue of privatizing the VA are at the heart of this matter.

Travis Riggs is the local AFGE president and has worked at the VA since 2001.

"Serving veterans is probably the absolute highest civilian calling that there is," said Riggs. "We used to get the cream of the crop and now it seems we are in a race to the bottom of the barrel.”

Riggs said that after wages for federal workers were frozen in 2008 that many people transitioned over to the private sector because they could make more money and the VA hasn't been able to recover.

"Many of those are doctors, nurses, frontline staff and mental health providers," said Riggs. "We are having a hard time recruiting top talent."

So why not privatize the VA, that has been a buzzword surrounding veteran health care and a group led by the Koch brothers out of Wisconsin have been leading the charge.

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin said he was removed from his position at the beginning of April because he opposed privatization, and many veterans have openly been opposed to it.

“While it might sound like a good idea to a lot of people, what is actually going to happen is we are going to spend a lot more money for a lot less care for our veterans," said Riggs.

The VA does a good job of giving veterans a one-stop shop where they can access benefits, get health care, talk with a counselor and communicate with other veterans.

While offering a variety of programs for vets and a culture that focuses on de-escalating situations brought about by PTSD or brain injuries and moving veterans to the private sector causes concerns on how those issues would be handled.

The Boise VA has a five-star ranking, it's one 17 across the country earn that status and Riggs said that many of the issues the VA is facing nationally aren't happening here in the Treasure Valley, but because Veterans Affairs is a federal program he is worried about the future.

"This country made a promise to our veterans that in exchange for their service and their sacrifice, we promised that we would take care of them," said Riggs. "The VA hasn’t done a good job of keeping that promise.”