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Michigan Workers Ready to Fight VA Hospital Closures

A rally to protest possible privatization of Veterans Administration hospitals is scheduled today at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. (Dwight Burdette/Wikimedia)
A rally to protest possible privatization of Veterans Administration hospitals is scheduled today at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. (Dwight Burdette/Wikimedia)
June 22, 2016

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan protesters are joining those in more than two dozen states this week to fight efforts to shutter some Veterans Administration hospitals.

The VA Commission on Care soon will release a report suggesting major changes to the VA health system, including privatizing some services.

As a leader in mental-health care, prosthetics and rehabilitation, the VA is best equipped to address the unique health-care needs of veterans, said J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. He said it's a fully integrated health-care system.

"It's a system that deals with homelessness and veterans, works with veterans who end up with issues concerning law enforcement," he said. " VA health care is important, and we cannot privatize it or the men and women that serve this country will certainly be the losers."

There's been controversy regarding long wait times and inaccurate record-keeping at the VA in recent years. Supporters of privatization argue it will improve the quality and timeliness of care, but opponents claim the opposite.

The Commission on Care included 15 appointees tasked with developing ways to improve health services for veterans over the next 20 years. Cox said it's troubling that no veterans' organizations -- such as the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans or Disabled Veterans of America -- were involved.

"These service organizations know veterans' needs," he said. "There was no employee involvement. How do you do anything without reaching down to the front line of the employees that actually do the work, to get their input on how to improve an organization?"

Not only is the VA a leading health-care institution for education and research, Cox said, but it's also a backup in a national health-care emergency. He said VA workers are on the ground, responding to such incidents as the shooting massacre in Orlando, Fla.

"Mental-health care providers from the VA had over 800 interactions of providing mental-health care to victims, also victims' families," he said. "So, the VA is an extremely important health-care system for everyone in this country, not just veterans."

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans make about 86,000 outpatient visits each year to VA health facilities, with more than 150,000 visits in Michigan in 2014.

Today's rally is to begin at 11 a.m. at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI