33% of Positions Vacant at Nine VA Regional Care Systems
Nine of the regional Department of Veterans Affairs health care systems have about one-third of their positions open, which can cause veterans to wait weeks for care, USA Today reports.
The nine facilities with vacancy rates exceeding 30% are located in:
- Big Spring, Texas;
- Fayetteville, N.C.;
- Long Beach, Calif.;
- Montgomery, Ala.;
- Reno, Nev.;
- Roseburg, Ore.;
- Togus, Maine; and
- Walla Walla, Wash.
Nationwide, there were about 41,000 -- or one out of every six -- vacant VA medical professional positions as of mid-July. According to an USA Today analysis, a 1% increase in job vacancies can result in more veterans having to wait longer than one month for an appointment.
The vacancy rate for psychologists is one of the highest, with 21% of such positions at VA open nationwide. At 13 regional VA health care systems 40% to 64% of psychologist positions remain open. Studies have shown up to 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder. The suicide rate among veterans is about three times higher than the rate among the general public.
Meanwhile, the vacancy rate for physician assistants is 23%, and data show VA needs more than 5,100 additional PAs. PAs manage a caseload of patients, have prescribing responsibilities and frequently are asked to oversee rural clinics or serve as first assistant on surgeries.
Further, 37% of VA's current PAs will qualify for retirement in 2016. If all of those PAs retire, VA's caseload capacity would drop by 1.1 million appointments per year, according to VA PA Association President Rubina DaSilva. DaSilva said PA vacancy rates have been increasing slowly over the past 20 years.
Among scheduling assistants, the vacancy rate is 21%.
VA has noted that hiring over the last year matched the 9% attrition rate and that it added new employees. A spokesperson said the Choice Act passed last August created 10,000 new medical positions, which drove up the number of vacancies.
However, VA critics have said the department's hiring has been compromised by bureaucracy. Phoenix VA spokesperson Jean Schaefer noted that the hiring process for clinical position can entail 18 steps. Others have said by the time the process is completed, candidates have accepted a position elsewhere.
Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), who worked part-time as a contractor at a VA facility for 20 years, has proposed an amendment (H.Amdt. 692) to streamline hiring and boost accountability. In addition, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has proposed legislation (SB 1676) to add 1,500 residency slots, with the hope that residents will continue on with VA (Hoyer, USA Today, 8/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.