(Helena, Mont.) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester today released the following statement after the Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced additional exemptions to President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze:
“This announcement is critical for veterans waiting for answers on their disability claims, appeals, and seeking care in places like Montana, I believe that the entire VA, as well as veterans seeking jobs in the federal government, should never have been included in the hiring freeze in the first place.”
Tester in January requested the exemptions announced today and discussed his request with VA Secretary David Shulkin earlier this week.
Today’s announcement expands exempted positions to include vocational rehab counselors, disability claims examiners, staff to address the appeals backlog, and employees to reimburse community providers for providing care to veterans, including those in the Choice Program.
Since the start of the hiring freeze, the disability claims backlog has grown from 97,362 to 100,402. Tester has been a leading advocate in Congress to reform the disability claims process and last year secured funding for the VA to hire an additional 300 claims processors to tackle the appeals backlog. The VA will now be able to hire the additional claims processors authorized by Tester’s legislation.
Tester previously led a bicameral effort calling for Trump to exempt the entire VA and veteran seeking federal employment from the hiring freeze. Following this, the VA announced exemptions including doctors, nurses and psychologists.