VA accused of excessive outsourcing of vets' jobs

The Veterans Affairs Department is being accused of undermining its own goal of hiring more veterans by expanding its outsourcing practices that eliminate many federal jobs currently, or historically, held by veterans, according to the union representing 205,000 employees at the VA.

In November, President Barack Obama signed into law the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act,” which included language to set up an expedited process for hiring returning solders for federal jobs.

But the VA’s own outsourcing, which began to grow under the Bush Administration and are continuing to expand, are abolishing many federal jobs currently held by veterans, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), an AFL-CIO union, said in a Feb. 8 news release.

For example, the Veterans Benefits Administration recently entered into a $54 million three-year contract with ACS Government Systems to perform claims processing work.

That work currently is being performed by “large numbers of veterans,” the union said. “To add insult to injury, the VBA employees are being asked to volunteer to train the contractors to do their work.”

“Contract claims processors working for profit will now handle the most personal information of our veterans.” AFGE National President John Gage said in the release.

In several other outsourcing contracts in recent years, the VA also has gotten rid of many government jobs historically held by veterans, AFGE said.

Other jobs recently outsourced by VA medical centers and cemeteries, which historically had been held by veterans, included cemetery caretakers, laundry and food service workers, housekeepers, groundskeepers and transportation assistants.

The VA also has failed to comply with a 2009 law that requires the agency to do a cost-benefit analysis before each outsourcing contract is awarded, to determine whether the contract is cost-effective for taxpayers, the union said.

“The agency continues to violate federal law by contracting out work that has been traditionally performed by veterans,” the union said. “The outsourced jobs include many entry level jobs that disabled veterans rely on to get back on their feet after returning from the battlefield.”

The union also claimed the VA conducts “excessive contracting” of physician and nursing services rather than hiring clinicians from within the military.

“Contract physicians and nurses lack the specialized skills and best practices of clinicians who dedicate their lives to serving the veteran population as VA employees,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee.

VA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Feb. 9.

Complaints about VA outsourcing have arisen on a regular basis in recent years. In 2009, the president reversed course on a proposed third-party billing initiative for veterans medical care following negative media attention about it.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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