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One Year Later: VA's Refusal to Comply With Nurse Protections in Landmark Caregiver Law Persists

Friday, May 6, 2011 General News J E 4
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WASHINGTON, May 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC) are disappointed in the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) slow response to comply with valuable provisions in the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-163) that were intended to improve the recruitment and retention of VA nurses.

"We are disheartened by the VA's lack of initiative and compliance with this landmark legislation. The enactment of P.L. 111-163 has made significant strides in strengthening protections for the nurses who  deliver care to America's veterans, but the agency has been reluctant to put them into action," said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary-treasurer who was a VA nurse for more than 23 years. "Our VA council is also troubled by provisions in this law that gave VA nurse executives a 400% increase in their yearly bonuses.  It remains to be seen how the VA can justify $100,000 yearly bonuses to these executives while cutting front line nursing staff and closing hospitals due to nurse shortages."

AFGE and NVAC have received complaints from members concerning management's disregard for critical personnel provisions in the law. These include rights for part-time registered nurses to become permanent employees after a two-year probationary period, retention of permanent job rights for full-time RNs who switch to part-time status and a clear definition of a true emergency in order to rein in the misuse of mandatory nurse overtime.

"Our members are frustrated that many of these new protections are being ignored by the VA.  The agency has delayed putting these rights into effect, which only hinders its ability to recruit and retain qualified nurses and continue to provide the quality care our veterans deserve," said NVAC President Alma Lee.  "Management is still allowing mandatory nurse overtime to take place when there is no true emergency, as defined by the new law, and the rights of part-time nurses are also being thrown by the wayside."

The VA has made some advancements in improving patient safety and providing benefits that meet the needs of today's vets; however, more needs to be done to enforce the rights of medical professionals that are on the front lines of patient care at VA hospitals nationwide.

"Through the passage of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, lawmakers have recognized the importance of strengthening the benefits and rights of veteran caregivers in all capacities," said Jane Nygaard, AFGE District 8 national vice president. "We must continue to urge the VA to adhere to all the provisions of this law, including protection for the nurses at the veteran's bedside, as they are essential in supporting clinicians providing world-class care to our veterans."

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 625,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia. Visit www.afge.org.

SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees

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