If you drove down Clinton Avenue in east central Fresno this morning, you may have seen a rally outside of the Fresno Department of Veterans Affairs. A few dozen veterans and VA staff chanted "when U.S. veterans are under attack, what do you do? Stand up, fight back," in protest over vacancies within the VA health system.
Veterans’ hospitals across the country are short of as many as 49,000 staff, including doctors and nurses. That’s after a 2014 law that allowed veterans to see providers outside the VA system.
Local president Jacob Dunn of the American Federation of Government Employees blames the so-called Veterans Choice Act for attracting providers to the private sector. He says the act was supposed to be only a temporary fix for long wait times in some hospitals.
“The Choice Act was initiated, enacted; the patient could go out to the community to get seen while the VA gets staffed, gets built," he says. "So far we haven’t seen that. All we see is more money going to choice."
Dunn calls for policymakers to support bills in Congress that would increase funding and transparency in veterans’ health care.
The Fresno VA did not immediately respond to a call for comment. Data obtained by NPR show that in recent years, the Fresno VA has fared better than most. It currently has 22 percent more staff than before the Choice Act, while national staff increased by only 8 percent.