It’s no wonder the Department of Veterans Affairs can’t provide quality medical care to America’s veterans; there are 41,500 vacant job positions for doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other medical professionals in the Veterans Health Administration.
But the VA doesn’t seem to care.
The shortage of medical personnel at the VA came to light when USA Today was following up on the Wait-Time Scandal at the Phoenix VA Medical Center. As part of the follow up, USA Today investigated reports to Congress that the VA had spent $7.7 billion last year to send 1.5 million veterans to doctors outside the VA because the VA didn’t have enough doctors.
To find out why, USA Today submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request about the staffing level at VA hospitals across the country. The Department of Veterans Affairs replied that the VA has 210,000 full-time medical positions at VA facilities nationwide.
The VA also replied that 41,500 of those job positions are vacant, which means that 19.76% of the medical positions in the VA Health Care system nationwide are vacant.
The vacant medical positions include jobs for 5,000 physicians, 12,000 nurses and 1,200 psychologists.
According to testimony before a House subcommittee earlier this year, there were 2,020 physician assistants working for the VA. But the records also show that the VA had 639 openings for physician assistants. That’s 24% vacancy rate.
The USA Today report did not list what the other 22,661 vacant medical positions were.
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson told Congress last month that so many medical jobs were vacant in the VA’s 150-hospital system that the VA had to refer 1.5 million veterans to see doctors outside the Veterans Health Administration. Those referrals to private physicians cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7.7 billion.
The added $7.7 billion expense has left the VA scrambling to close a $2.6-billion shortfall this year. As a result, last Thursday VA Secretary Bob McDonald asked Congress to pass a bill that will give the VA Secretary the flexibility he needs to shift money within the VA budget to cover the $2.6-billion gap.
That means the VA is going to rob Peter to pay Paul. Where is the VA going to take the money from in the budget: funds for VA housing loans, funds for VA college loans, or funds for VA disability payments?
Last month, Deputy Secretary Gibson told Congress that the shortfall would not have been so large “if we were fully staffed up”.
Janet Murphy, the VA’s Deputy Undersecretary for Health Operations and Management, told USA Today that the VA is struggling to fill these vacant positions because President Obama’s Affordable Care Act health insurance program expanded Medicaid coverage to millions of low-income Americans, and that has raised the demand for medical professionals in the private sector.
Murphy also said that the pay for many positions in the VA health care system is lower than in the private sector.
But others people who work for the VA put part of the blame on the VA’s bureaucracy because the VA’s hiring process is so cumbersome and slow.
Joan Clifford, immediate past president of the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs, told USA Today, “There are nurses out there who want to work with us. But most people aren’t going to wait two months for a job when the hospital down the street is going to hire you in a few weeks.”
Unfortunately, things don’t seem to be getting better, they seem to be getting worse. In July 2014, the Arizona Republic reported that the VA had 31,000 unfilled medical job openings. Now there are 41,500 unfilled medical job openings in the VA. This means that in the past year the number of vacant medical positions in the VA has grown by 10,500 vacancies. That is a 33.87% increase.
No wonder the VA’s health care system is such a disaster.