(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) are teaming up to introduce bipartisan legislation to bolster the recruitment and retention of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) workforce.
The VA Workforce Improvement, Support, and Expansion (WISE) Act of 2022 would provide increased pay and benefits for VA’s workforce, expand opportunities in rural VA facilities, support training for current and future VA clinicians, and provide additional oversight of VA Human Resource operations and their use of hiring authorities. This legislation will also better prepare VA to respond to current and future toxic exposure claims.
“VA employees are the backbone of the Department, so it’s critically important that we’re doing everything we can to get more qualified folks to fill these positions,” said Chairman Tester. “Ensuring competitive pay and benefits for these hard-working men and women should be a no-brainer, which is why we’re introducing this commonsense bill that’ll open more doors to employment in rural areas like Montana—doing right by those committed to serving those who’ve served us.”
“The VA’s persistent staffing shortages and retention challenges have the potential to impact the care of our veterans,” said Senator Boozman. “We must ensure there is always an adequate level of dedicated medical professionals capable of meeting the needs of our former servicemembers, no matter where they live. Our legislation creates a pipeline for the VA health workforce by incentivizing physicians and nurses to pursue and continue careers helping veterans. This is a reasonable solution to ensure we have the proper resources to fulfill the promise we made to the men and women who answered the call to serve in our nation’s uniform.”
Among its many provisions the Senators’ VA WISE Act of 2022 will:
- Allow increased pay for VA employees;
- Extend the Department's hiring, recruitment, and retention authorities, including extending temporary appointments and waiving pay limitations for employees performing mission critical work during the national health emergency;
- Direct VA to develop and implement a national VA Rural Recruitment and Hiring Plan, including best practices for recruiting health care professionals to rural VA facilities; and
- Create a Rural Health Quality and Access Fellowship program for graduate or post-graduate health care professionals to serve at a rural or highly rural VA facilities.
Numerous Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) nationwide have applauded the Senators’ legislative efforts to increase support for VA’s workforce and fill critical Department positions nationwide.
“We applaud the provisions that will strengthen HR, increase pay, improve hiring authorities and offer flexibility which will provide VA with the tools to recruit and retain its valuable workforce,” said Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs’ (NOVA) President TJ Wilcox-Olson. “The pandemic has shown us all that a strong healthcare workforce must be a priority—as nurses who take care of veterans, we believe an investment in VA's workforce is critical to continue to meet its mission of offering timely access to world class care for all veterans.”
“Filling its available positions with the right people has been an ongoing challenge for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Heather Ansley, Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Associate Executive Director for Government Relations. “The VA Workforce Improvement, Support, and Expansion (WISE) Act of 2022 gives VA the ability to ensure that it has the staff to meet veterans' health care needs.”
Earlier this week, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on ways VA can better recruit and retain key Department personnel amid a tightening labor market, where Chairman Tester announced his intent to introduce the VA WISE Act alongside Senator Boozman to help tackle chronic labor shortages across the country.
Text of the VA WISE Act of 2022 can be found HERE.