The Trump administration announced on Monday that it would be implementing a hiring freeze in the federal government. The freeze will stop people from being hired at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to USA Today.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that the administration is waiting for David Shulkin to be confirmed as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and then they will start figuring out how and when to go about hiring new personnel. It's unclear how long the freeze will last.
In President Donald Trump's victory speech he claimed he would "finally take care of our great veterans, who have been so loyal."
There are currently over 3,000 job openings on the VA's website, and the agency is notoriously understaffed and inefficient. It was reported last year that there were over 41,000 job openings in VA hospitals. According to Military Times, there is a process where the Office of Personnel Management can exempt certain hiring from the freeze if the job has to do with public safety, but the agency has not laid out which jobs that could apply to in the VA.
As noted by USA Today, there are already over half a million veterans waiting over a month for appointments at the VA.
Sue Sisley, a physician who has worked with veterans for over 20 years, told ATTN: that in some places nurses and doctors don't see the VA as an ideal employer. However, she said it's extremely important that positions be filled when they need to be.
"If you don't fill medical staff position, like doctors and nurses, in a timely fashion, then you are going to see longer wait times for patients," Sisley said. "It's just inevitable. It is possibly negligent." She said that not having enough doctors and nurses can put lives at risk if the freeze goes on for long enough. Private care is a viable option, but some veterans cannot afford it.
Overall, Sisley said the system is in disrepair and needs to be fixed. "It's still a highly suboptimal system," she said. "Patients still aren't able to get care in a timely manner. Things have improved only slightly at places that were supposed to be main targets."
The Obama administration did make efforts to fix the system in the last few years, but many criticized the president for not holding enough people in the VA's leadership accountable. The administration faced a major scandal in 2014. Some VA hospitals were making fake wait lists to hide the fact they were sometimes taking months to treat patients; many veterans had died waiting for help, according to CBS News.
Rich Rudnick, director of operations for the National Veterans Foundation, told ATTN: that he thinks the hiring freeze is counterproductive.
"Thirty-one percent of VA employees are veterans, so that reduces opportunities for veterans to get hired," he said. "The VA in undermanned as it is, from basically top to bottom in my personal opinion. There aren't enough claims adjusters, people to process VA compensation claims. The Obama administration hired quite a few, and the backlog has come down, but it's still too high. People are retiring, so there will be fewer and fewer." He said he hopes the freeze doesn't last long.
Rudnick said he's already received a call from a veteran who had applied with the VA and found out he wouldn't be hired after the freeze was announced.