WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to add new jobs available at the agency following its temporary exemption from President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze.
The agency is nonetheless a long way from filling what VA Secretary David Shulkin told lawmakers amounts to as many as 45,000 vacant positions, multiple media outlets are reporting.
On March 13, Shulkin issued a memorandum adding 60 job titles to the list of vacant posts, including openings at Arlington Cemetery, in cybersecurity, law enforcement, and criminal investigations, Stars and Stripes reported.
The memo also added more positions at the Veterans Crisis Line, a service that offers confidential support for veterans.
In all, the memo increased freeze-exempt jobs to 156, but “it was unclear… how many more of the 45,000 vacancies could be filled based on Shulkin’s memo. However, depending on how many vacancies there are for each job title, there could be hundreds, possibly thousands, of additional positions exempt from the hiring freeze,” Stars and Stripes reported.
In December, a Government Accountability Office report found that the agency has “systemic, long-standing human capital challenges,” and Congress has called on the VA to increase staff to serve veterans better.
In February, the GAO said the VA would remain on its “high risk” list of areas of the federal government prone to waste and mismanagement and in need of more oversight.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced legislation that would completely exempt the VA from the hiring freeze, but the legislation has yet to be taken up, according to Stars and Stripes.
When asked by National Public Radio about filling such a vast amount of openings at the agency Shulkin said that negative publicity about the agency hampers hiring.
“Well, we have about 360,000 employees in the VA health care system,” Shulkin told NPR’s Morning Edition. “It’s the largest health care system in the country, and we have many job openings.”
This is actually something you see across America, particularly in rural America, where there’s a shortage of health care professionals.We’re out actively trying to recruit many health care professionals… and the negative attention that’s been put on VA has hurt the morale of our work force.
So what we’re trying to do is get people to understand that when they come to work at VA, this is really a terrific place to work. It’s filled with dedicated professionals, we’re doing great work every day, it’s a way to serve your country and we want people to come join us.
According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 453,000 veterans were unemployed in 2016. The unemployment rate in 2016 was 4.2 percent for male veterans and five percent for female veterans.
“In 2016, 20.9 million men and women were veterans, accounting for about nine percent of the civilian noninstitutional population age 18 and over,” the BLS noted in its press release.
According to BLS, “In 2016, the unemployment rate of veterans varied across the country, ranging from 1.8 percent in Indiana to 7.6 percent in the District of Columbia.”