WASHINGTON, D.C. -U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held a hearing today on making VA the workplace of choice for health care providers. Witnesses addressed current shortcomings and suggested ways to improve recruitment, retention and service quality. Locality pay for nurses, and support for education incentives were among the issues discussed.
"Veterans will not receive the world-class health care they deserve unless VA is able to hire the best and the brightest clinicians," said Akaka. The Veterans Health Administration operates the nation's largest health care system, including 153 hospitals and 731 outpatient clinics. The system serves roughly 7.8 million enrollees, including millions of service-disabled veterans, as well as servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Today's hearing shed light on the many issues facing VA as it seeks to recruit needed doctors and nurses and other health care providers. This hearing laid the foundation for concrete changes to make VA a more attractive choice for top-notch health care professionals. I will be working on legislation to address these issues and help expedite some of these necessary changes," said Chairman Akaka.
The witnesses described VA's health care personnel situation as one where VA is constantly challenged to compete with private-sector employers that are able to provide better pay and incentives. Difficulties in hiring Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists were highlighted in a Government Accountability Office report describing VA difficulties with providing competitive pay, and the effect of non-competitive salaries on recruitment and retention.
Witnesses suggested changes to improve recruitment and retention, such as increasing student loan forgiveness, utilizing higher salary rates when possible, and improving benefits for part-time employees. The high value of maintaining a robust VA research program was also highlighted as a strong incentive for choosing to work at VA.
The full witness list can be viewed here: ?action=release.display&release_id=e3363a5d-8642-4f55-9489-dd0b3f67d570&view=all
The Chairman's opening statement can be viewed here: ?action=release.display&release_id=e3363a5d-8642-4f55-9489-dd0b3f67d570&sub_release_id=7bfed838-47ff-43e6-9412-4c6a607b4b1a&view=all