April 21, 2017

Sens. Warner & Kaine Press V-A Sec. Shulkin for Details on Hiring Priorities

WASHINGTON – A week after the Trump Administration lifted a misguided freeze on new hires in the federal workforce, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are asking the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for a plan to prioritize filling administrative positions which are key to addressing a shortage of medical professionals who serve in the V-A medical system. The hiring freeze which exempted V-A clinical staff but not V-A personnel responsible for recruiting and hiring clinicians – was lifted on April 12th.  

Earlier this week, however, officials at the Hampton V-A facility had not received any guidance on addressing significant vacancies in the Hampton V-A medical center’s human resources department, making it extremely difficult to fill the more than 200 open clinical positions at the facility.

"The inability to fill these positions due to the hiring freeze has undoubtedly caused delays for veterans seeking access to health care in Hampton Roads and across the Commonwealth," the senators wrote in a letter to V-A Sec. David Shulkin. "In addition to the challenges V-A has faced in providing health care as a result of the hiring freeze, we also have concerns that veterans seeking benefits have been impacted... Benefits Administration staff have also indicated that the freeze has hindered their ability to process claims in a timely manner."

Sens. Warner and Kaine asked Sec. Shulkin for baseline data on current job vacancies, information on plans to prioritize hiring in administrative positions, which are crucial to processing benefits and hiring new medical personnel, and what additional authorities or resources the VA needs to fill the vacancies.

Virginia is home to more than 750,000 military veterans and their families, and has one of the fastest growing veterans populations in the country.

Text of the letter follows and can be found here.

April 21, 2017

The Honorable David Shulkin
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shulkin:

We write today following the issuance of Memorandum-17-22 by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney on April 12, 2017, which lifted President Donald Trump’s government-wide hiring freeze. While we applaud the lifting of this hiring freeze, thousands of veterans and their families continue to suffer as a result of this incredibly short-sighted policy. Following the issuance of M-17-22, we are requesting that you provide us with an update on how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans to prioritize hiring to ensure VA facilities have the personnel needed to provide expeditious and quality care for our veterans.

As you know, Virginia is home to over 750,000 veterans and has one of the fastest growing veteran populations in the country. It is essential that our VA facilities are appropriately staffed to accommodate this growing veteran population. While many positions were exempted from the hiring freeze – including most clinical positions – critical human resources jobs did not receive the same exemption. This has made it challenging for VA facilities to fill open clinical positions, even though these jobs were exempted from the President’s hiring freeze. For example, the Hampton VA Medical Center’s (VAMC) human resources department is down 40 percent, making it extremely difficult to fill the more than 200 open clinical positions at the facility. The inability to fill these positions due to the hiring freeze has undoubtedly caused delays for veterans seeking access to health care in Hampton Roads and across the Commonwealth. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether facilities like Hampton VAMC have the authority to restart hiring for these positions following M-17-22 or whether they still require a specific exemption, which may delay the process.

In addition to the challenges VA has faced in providing health care as a result of the hiring freeze, we also have concerns that veterans seeking benefits have been impacted. VA data shows a measurable increase in backlogged claims since the freeze's implementation. Benefits Administration staff have also indicated that the freeze has hindered their ability to process claims in a timely manner.

As you move forward to fill the thousands of open positions within the VA and comply with the requirements of M-17-22, we ask that you provide us with a briefing on your plan to prioritize hiring to ensure that VA facilities are appropriately staffed to provide timely care and services for our veterans.

Specifically, we would like to know the following:

1. How many positions are currently unfilled at the VA?
2. What, if any, additional resources or authorities are required to fill the necessary vacancies?
3. How many of the VA’s open positions will remain restricted from hiring pending personnel reviews?
4. What, if any, work roles will remain subject to hiring restrictions?
5. At what level are exemptions for hiring restrictions authorized to be made?
6. How are you tracking the impact of continued hiring restrictions on services and care for veterans?

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your prompt response. 

Sincerely, 

Mark R. Warner
United States Senator 

Tim Kaine
United States Senator

cc:        Mick Mulvaney, Director, Office of Management and Budget

Kathleen M. McGettigan, Acting Director, Office of Personnel Management

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