Kiggans at HVAC Joint O&I and Health Subcommittee Hearing: “The VA has its work cut out for them.”

May 17, 2023
Press
Veterans

Click here to view the Congresswoman’s remarks.

WASHINGTON, DC: Today, Rep. Jen Kiggans (VA-02), the Chairwoman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the Subcommittee’s Joint Oversight Hearing with the Subcommittee on Health to assess recruitment and retention of staff within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system:

Good morning. This joint oversight hearing for the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Subcommittee on Health will now come to order.

As a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner, I am no stranger to the challenges of hiring and staffing medical professionals.

The VA has its work cut out for them. Having worked in both VA and the private sector, I know how crucial it is for patients to be supported by adequately staffed healthcare teams.

Unfortunately, we are experiencing a workforce shortage nationwide, which can lead to higher risks and poorer health care outcomes for patients.

This crisis, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, an aging population, provider burnout, demographic shifts, and higher education faculty shortages, is negatively impacting all health care professionals. And unfortunately, VA health care facilities are not immune. 

The passage of the PACT Act last Congress, which largely expanded health care eligibility at VA, makes a seamless hiring process and a robust workforce that much more important.

The PACT Act also included many hiring provisions to help make VA more attractive to prospective employees and added incentives to help increase retention rates.

I look forward to hearing from VA on whether they are fully implementing these hiring authorities to address the health and resiliency of their workforce.

VHA has told the Committee that it is setting a record pace for hiring and is minimizing their turnover rates. In 2023, VHA’s workforce grew by 9,590 employees, which is the highest growth rate we have seen in more than 20 years.

This is encouraging news, but I remain concerned about VA’s lengthy and resource intensive hiring and relocation process.

Delays in hiring or relocating staff across its own system has led to well-trained and high-quality staff ending up accepting other jobs outside the VA.

I am also worried about numerous concerns expressed by VA employees and their support organizations across the country, about indifferent management, discrepancies in pay driven by poor processing, and inadequate staffing models and vacancy tracking.

This isn’t confined just to medical staff.

Medical center police forces have been struggling with staffing issues as well.

With it being National Police Week, I want to say thank you to our VA Police Officers who work so hard each day to provide a safe and supportive health care environment to our veterans.

VA Police are often understaffed and must manage very difficult situations in a sensitive health care setting.

I am introducing a bill to get to the bottom of the Police staffing issues and security weaknesses, which are impacting medical centers across the country, like the Hampton medical center next to my district.

In closing, VA appears to be making some progress but there is still much to do, and we need to ensure the burdensome bureaucracy of VA is not reducing the quality of the workforce because it takes too long to hire, promote, or support talented employees.

I hope this hearing brings clarity to what VA is doing to minimize overlapping bureaucratic processes and what resources VA is currently applying, as the title of this hearing mentions, to ensure a quality workforce.

I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today about the obstacles, and opportunities, they face in the effort to ensure veterans get the care they need and deserve.

I especially look forward to hearing from the American Hospital Association on panel two, to understand lessons learned from the private sector on how they are handling recruitment and retention issues.

Thank you all for being here and I look forward to our discussion on both panels too.

With that, I yield to Ranking Member Brownley for her opening statement.

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