WASHINGTON — In a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of Government Employees on behalf of VA employees, lawyers argue that VA employees are in "imminent danger" and "workplace conditions and practices are expected to cause death or serious physical harm" amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"If I say, 'Inhumane acts' I think I still would be speaking mildly," said Dr. Everett Kelley, President of AFGE National. "The VA is required by law to offer workers a place of employment, which is free from recognized hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm and the VA is in violation of that law."
Kelley referenced the story of a VA employee in California who, in lieu of proper personal protective equipment, was allegedly provided a trash bag to protect them against catching the virus. Kelley alleges that trash bag was then shared with another employee.
Christina Noel, Press Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs took issue with the AFGE claims.
"The claims being made are false to the point where sharing them with your readers would be highly irresponsible,” Noel said in an email to WUSA9.
The six-page complaint filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Agency claims "the VA has not supplied all federal employees with the PPE they desperately need to protect themselves, their peers, and patients from COVID-19 exposure."
"All VA facilities are equipped with essential items and supplies, and we are continually monitoring the status of those items to ensure a robust supply chain," said Noel in an email statement to WUSA9.
"VA facilities are using PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines, and all employees have the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as per those guidelines," she said. "Per CDC guidance and VA protocols, employees exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms are immediately isolated to prevent potential spread to others."
There have been 44 coronavirus cases reported at the VA Medical Center in D.C. Four cases are being reported at the Martinsburg, West Virginia VA Medical Center and an email to staff says they are preparing for additional cases.
"You’re going to see more employees affected. You’re going to see people dying," Kelley said hen asked what is likely to happen unless union leaders and government managers come together to reach consensus on the best way to ensure employees safety.
AFGE represents 700,000 government workers across the United States