Op-Ed: The Biden administration values unions over care for our veterans

August 09, 2021

By James Sherk in The Washington Examiner

Milton Friedman once noted that a person spending somebody else’s money on someone else cares little about quality or cost. The Biden administration seems determined to prove this point. The Department of Veterans Affairs is shifting millions from patient care to federal unions.

Veterans seeking VA care historically faced long wait times. This became a national scandal during the Obama administration. The Trump administration prioritized fixing the problem, including signing legislation giving veterans more options to receive treatment. The Trump administration also cracked down an abuse that diverted resources from patient care.

VA’s union contracts allow employees to work for their union while on duty. The Obama VA authorized more than 1 million hours a year of this “union time.” The Obama VA also gave unions rent-free office space. This was a great deal for VA’s unions: They paid nothing for their operational expenses. Taxpayers picked up the tab instead.

But union time was a poor deal for sick veterans. It took medical personnel away from treating them. For example, the VA paid a nurse anesthetist $269,000 to do union business entirely. Despite the VA’s wait times, this trained professional did not treat a single veteran. Nor did a VA pharmacist who earned $202,000 a year. Across the VA, hundreds of employees, including doctors and nurses, did only union work.

The Trump administration ended these abuses. Former President Donald Trump signed an executive order limiting union time to a quarter of working hours. He charged unions rent for office space, freeing resources for patient care. The VA further prevented certain medical personnel from doing union work on duty. These doctors and nurses instead began treating veterans again.

These reforms were highly successful. VA union time use dropped in half under the Trump administration. And patient trust in VA care hit a record high — above 90%.

But the Biden administration is undoing these gains. President Joe Biden rescinded the executive order capping union time. And Biden’s VA is allowing medical personnel to do union business again. Moreover, the VA has agreed retroactively to compensate unions for the subsidies they lost under Trump. The VA will refund unions’ office rental costs. And it will reimburse employees for union time they were previously denied.

Over the next four years, these policies will shift more than $100 million from patient care to federal unions. Why would Biden do this? Doctors and nurses filing grievances instead of treating patients will not help veterans. It does, however, greatly benefit federal unions.

Biden cared more about satisfying special interests than improving veteran care. This is what happens when politicians spend somebody else’s money on somebody else.

James Sherk is the director of the Center for American Freedom at the America First Policy Institute. He previously served as a special assistant to the president in the Domestic Policy Council at the White House during the Trump administration.