The Department of Veterans Affairs' "persistent workforce shortage" has had a severe "negative impact" of veterans seeking treatment at VA medical facilities, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie this week.
"I remain consistently frustrated that VA medical facilities, particularly those in rural areas, are dramatically understaffed," wrote Tester, the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, according to MilitaryTimes. "I regularly hear from veterans throughout Montana and elsewhere that vacancies and constant turnover negatively impact how quickly they can get appointments, as well as the quality of their relationship with their doctor.”
He added, "Veterans across the country continue to face the effects of an understaffed VA. It is essential the department makes full use of the authorities provided by Congress and identify any challenges in implementation."
Vacancies at the VA rose by about 3,000 over the past year, ending fiscal year 2019 with more than 49,000 posts unfilled, with the vast majority, about 43,000, at the Veterans Health Administration.
"VA's number of vacancies is a normal part of doing business and is not negatively impacting our ability to provide veterans care," said VA press secretary Christina Mandreucci in a statement. "The best indicator of adequate staffing levels is not vacancies, but veteran access to care and healthcare outcomes. By those standards, VA is doing well."
Mandeucci attributed many of the vacancies to "normal retirements and job changes," not problems at the department or with its hiring practices.
"VA hires more employees than it loses, to replace turnover and keep up with the growth in demand for services."
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