Tester Takes VA to Task for Prolonging Hiring Freeze

Senator Demands Answers for VA’s Added Red Tape to Hire Staff

(U.S. Senate) – The Trump Administration’s prolonged hiring freeze is hurting Montana’s and America’s veterans and Senator Jon Tester is taking the VA to task over it.

Tester, who is Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is demanding answers from the VA after it released stricter hiring requirements for prospective employees who want to serve veterans. The VA’s new guidelines force frontline managers to jump through additional bureaucratic hoops before hiring new staff, which limits the ability of local VA facilities to address their staff shortages. Under the new guidance, any vacancy must get the approval of an Under Secretary before it can be advertised and filled. 

Tester, joined by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), wrote to VA Chief of Staff Peter O’Rourke:

“In our home states, facilities struggle to meet demand for clinical care, for processing of claims, and even for getting a call answered at a call center. In a climate where VA facilities are having to compete for resources with private providers, it’s critical that VA facilities are not limited or slowed down in their ability to hire positions so that they are truly able to maintain the high quality care necessary to be able to care for veterans. It’s disturbing to think that the VA may be disadvantaging its own facilities in order to push more veteran care into the private sector.”

Tester, Blumenthal, Brown, and Hirono are requesting information in their letter about the VA’s intended outcome of this new, stricter process on hiring staff. The Senators are also asking the following questions:

  • Under this new process, how many days does it take to provide approval, or how much time has been added to the average completion time of a hiring package?
  • How many current vacancies that require a waiver are occupations that have frequent contact with veteran patients or beneficiaries?
  • How are you determining whether veterans are harmed or delayed in getting resolution of their issues based on these new processes?
  • How have you communicated this policy to the field?
  • Have you discussed this guidance with labor representatives?

Tester recently demanded that the VA provide a list of specific things the VA will do, above and beyond current efforts, to address medical and clinical vacancies in Montana. VA Montana still has provider vacancies and too many veterans are getting their care by telehealth only.

Tester also led 164 members of Congress in calling for President Trump to exempt the VA from his hiring freeze shortly after he took office. While the VA heeded his call and exempted certain positions, the VA still suffers from hiring restrictions.

The Senators letter to the VA can be read online HERE.