In a further sign of the deteriorating relationship between federal agencies and unions and the fraying of nerves over the partial government shutdown, the VA and the AFGE union have had a testy exchange over what the department called the union’s perpetrating of “one of the most insulting and misleading stereotypes of veterans.”
A letter from VA secretary Robert Wilkie to AFGE president J. David Cox Sr. was a response to a comment by a union local president that if the partial government shutdown isn’t ended, there would be suicides of veterans as a result. The AFGE is the largest employee union in the department.
The VA is one of the agencies fully funded and not affected by the funding lapse elsewhere, although with more than a quarter of federal workers overall being veterans, veterans likely account for a substantial portion of those in non-pay status elsewhere.
The letter said that AFGE is “pushing the ‘veteran as victim’ myth” and that “the notion that most veterans are so fragile from their service that the slightest hint of hardship can push them to the brink of mental breakdown or even self-harm is preposterous.” Other terms the letter used include “disgraceful”, “harmful”, and “canard”; it also accused the union of using veterans as “pawns in a political debate while exploiting the serious issue of veteran suicide.”
In response, Cox did not apologize as Wilkie had requested. Instead, he said in a statement that “federal government employed veterans are hurting right now … Financial pressures experienced by working people are apparently not something this administration either understands or cares about. AFGE will continue to work to alleviate those kinds of pressure on veterans and all other working and middle-class Americans.”