Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic there is a major shortage of doctors, nurses and even those in support and administration positions. It’s not just front line medical staff that are in short supply. There is a great need for roles such as “public health educators,” “health operations analysts” and “health communications specialists.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has 170 medical centers and more than 1,000 outpatient care centers across the United States, has been struggling with staffing shortages for several years. And according to recent data, published by the Federal News Network, the Veterans Health Administration, which serves as the nation’s backup hospital system, had 40,985 vacancies within its medical facilities at the end of the first quarter of 2020.
At the end of March the VA Hospitals had reported nearly 500 cases of COVID-19 with nearly 10 patient deaths, while more than 75 VA facilities had employees that tested positive with coronavirus, putting a further strain on the facilities.
The situation at the hospitals has put a spotlight on its current openings, which includes physicians, nurses and opportunities for those transitioning from the military including medics and corpsman; as well as for positions in senior leadership and information technology (IT). The VA now seeks those with telehealth/virtual care and direct patient care/support experience at VA medical centers and/or outpatient clinics.
Dual Compensation Waivers
The VA has even taken to social media with the repeated plea: “We need you! Help us in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider #VAre-employment.”
The healthcare shortage in some parts of the country such as hard-hit Detroit and New Orleans has caused the VA to call upon retired doctors and nurses to come back to work.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has thrown a lifeline of sorts, and last month approved a VA request to waive a section of federal law that governs retired VA workers. This would make it easier for the department to rehire VA health care workers, and for facilities to bolster their medical staffs to deal with this pandemic.
VA leaders had called upon expedited hiring practices as well as dual compensation waivers for potential recruits – meaning that those coming back to work won’t have to give up their federal retirement benefits to start assisting at department medical centers. The VA announced that it plans to use the waiver authority to begin hiring actions, while the department has invited interested retired physicians, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, respiratory therapists and other medical professionals to register online.
Typically, when rehired, retirees’ salaries are normally reduced to reflect the retirement annuity they are already receiving. However, this waiver would eliminate that salary reduction, making the prospect of returning to VA employment more appealing. It would expire after one year.
“This action helps give the department surge capacity as needed,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, via a statement. “On behalf of all the Veterans we serve, I thank OPM for its quick action and invite our retired health care workers to consider coming back to VA during this crucial time.”
Congress had previously given the VA the authority to grant dual compensation waivers in 2014, and that included reemployed annuitants who worked about 20 hours per week. That authority had been set to expire at the end of last year, but Congress extended it until 2024.
Last month the White House held a conference call with leaders from the nation’s major veteran organizations and briefed them on the latest developments on the COVID-19 outbreak. They promised that other veteran health care needs would not be ignored as a result of this ongoing crisis.