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VA Workers Sue for Hazardous Duty Pay During Pandemic

Richard Sisk

The union representing more than 260,000 civil service employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs filed a lawsuit Monday, claiming they are owed hazardous duty pay of 25% above their typical salaries for working during the coronavirus epidemic that has infected more than 770 veterans nationwide.

The suit, by the American Federation of Government Employees filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., also included plaintiffs from the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Agriculture and said they also were entitled to hazardous duty pay under sections of the U.S. Code.

In addition, the lawsuit alleged that "there are likely thousands of other federal employees who have been exposed to the coronavirus while performing their official duties and are entitled to hazard pay pursuant to federal law."

"It is our hope that the government does right by these employees and pays them the hazardous duty pay they've earned," AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement announcing the filing of the suit.

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There was no immediate response from the VA to the lawsuit. As of Saturday, the VA had reported a total of more than 770 confirmed cases of coronavirus among veterans nationwide and at least 16 deaths.

The lawsuit named as a plaintiff Jason Phillips, a diagnostic radiology technologist with the Portland, Oregon, Veterans Affairs health care system.

Earlier this month, Phillips was told to diagnose a patient, but was not informed that the patient was COVID-19 positive, the lawsuit said.

Phillips "was not apprised of the patient's condition prior to performing the procedure on him. With the exception of gloves, plaintiff Phillips was not provided, nor did he wear, any personal protective equipment," the lawsuit said.

The suit was filed on behalf of AFGE by the law firm of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch in Washington, D.C.

"Federal employees are risking their lives and the lives of their families every day when they leave their homes," Heidi Burakiewicz, a partner at the firm, said in a statement.

At the VA, "employees, including janitorial and maintenance staff, have also been working for weeks in facilities where there have been documented cases of COVID-19," Burakiewicz said.

The union said that questions federal employees have about the case can be emailed to the law firm at COVID19HazardPay@kcnlaw.com

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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