‘They’re hoarding the masks:’ VA workers protest lack of PPE on the job

Updated: Apr. 14, 2020 at 1:48 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Not enough safety gear, no hazard pay and a lack of communication are just a few claims made by some Veterans Administration (VA) workers who want their voices heard.

Some of them raised those voices Tuesday as they protested outside the VA entrance in Biloxi. They said it’s not fair for them to have to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines without enough personal protection equipment (PPE).

“The primary concern is masks. The proper masks. Our employees simply aren’t getting it. The VA keeps saying they have plenty in stock. It’s my opinion that the reason they have plenty in stock is because they’re not passing them out like they should,” said John Mechanic, VA worker and American Federation of Government Employees Local 1045 representative. “In lack of a better definition, they’re hoarding the masks.”

This group hopes making noise about what they say is the lack of gear and lack of communication will create some chatter on the other end of the spectrum.

“Just like we love our loved ones at home, we are here to protect their loved ones on a daily basis on our job,” said Alicia Walker-Smith, a 25-year VA employee. “We are players in this game, but there is no game plan. Therefore, we’re just sitting ducks, and sitting there every day and wondering if we’re going to be exposed, or if our families are going to be exposed.”

Bruce Cummins, Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System spokesperson, said “As America deals with COVID-19, the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System has proactively implemented appropriate measures to ensure the safest health care environment for each Veteran, employee, and visitor. The Biloxi VA is equipped with essential items and supplies, and we are continually monitoring the status of those items to ensure a robust supply chain.”

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