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Federal hiring freeze could affect veterans services, care

Federal hiring freeze could affect veterans services, care

Human Resources Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands (left) and Command Sgt. Maj. Wardell Jefferson (center) visited with veteran patients last year at the Louisville Veterans Administration Hospital. President Trump signed an executive order last week establishing a hiring freeze at all federal agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs.  (Photo by Lt. Col. Janet Herrick, HRC Public Affairs Officer)

 

By Jamie Rogers

Last week, President Trump issued an executive order implementing a hiring freeze across the federal government, with exceptions only for military, national security or public safety personnel. One of the agencies most affected by the freeze is the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is currently advertising to fill more than 2,000 job openings on the federal hiring website, including for hundreds of nurses and doctors. 

Advocates for veterans had been alarmed by White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s assertion that the VA’s workforce of 312,000 employees is covered by the order Trump signed on Jan. 23.

“Right now, the system’s broken,” Spicer said of the VA, explaining that a halt to hiring is meant as a “pause” until David Shulkin, Trump’s nominee for VA secretary who is now head of the agency’s sprawling healthcare system, can settle into the job. Shulkin has previously said the agency urgently needs to hire more doctors and nurses.

“When you have a system that’s not working, and then going out and hiring additional people doesn’t seem to be the most efficient way of solving the problem,” Spicer said. “What we need to do, whether it’s the VA or any other agency, is make sure that we’re hiring smartly and effectively and efficiently.”

Hours after the White House’s announcements, the VA clarified that it plans to continue hiring for jobs with public safety missions.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs intends to exempt anyone it deems necessary for public safety, including frontline caregivers,” said acting VA secretary Robert Snyder in a statement.

Still, some worry that the hiring freeze imposed by Trump could exacerbate problems for the half-million veterans still waiting longer than a month for appointments. The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, said it is concerned that the long backlog in appeals for benefits will linger if the VA cannot hire staff to process paperwork.

“We have strong concerns, however, about how this will impact the veterans who have been waiting too long to have their claims processed,” National Commander Charles E. Schmidt said. “The sacrifices that these veterans have made must not be forgotten. VA has made progress in this area and it must continue to do so.”

The VA is one of the largest agencies in the federal government with more than 350,000 employees. The agency provides veterans with death, disability and education benefits, as well as health care at more 1,200 medical facilities that serve nearly 9 million veterans each year.

Do you support the federal government hiring freeze? How might this affect services provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs? Let us know in a comment below.

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