Warner, Kaine urge Trump to exempt VA from hiring freeze

mark warner tim kaineIn a letter to President Trump citing the devastating impact his federal hiring freeze will have on veterans and their families, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine urged the president to exempt the entire VA and all veterans seeking federal jobs from his executive order.

Warner and Kaine emphasized that the hiring freeze will add to the chronic workforce shortages that are plaguing the VA, and that more administrative and medical support staff are needed at VA facilities to reduce wait times across the country and make payments on time. Underscoring that veterans make up 31 percent of the federal workforce, the Senators noted that a hiring freeze across the federal government will hurt veterans, many of whom are transitioning from the military to civilian service and may be disabled.

“A hiring freeze at the VA will delay veterans’ access to health care and resolution of their disability claims, which for many of our nation’s heroes provides a sole source of income to them and their families,” the Senators wrote.  “Our nation’s veterans should not be made to sacrifice any more than they already have while you review federal hiring.

“The negative impacts of this freeze will be felt across the country and disproportionately affect those men and women who have honorably served in our military,” they added. “I urge you to re-evaluate this hiring freeze and take into account the effect it will have on veterans who will have to wait longer for earned benefits.”

There are more than 450,000 veterans waiting for their benefits claims to be adjudicated, and as of late last year more than 45,000 unfilled positions at the VA. Additionally, the VA has reported that more than 40 percent of its senior officials are currently eligible for retirement. Efforts to replace each of these employees would be dramatically impaired by the hiring freeze.

Following criticism of the hiring freeze’s impact on veterans, the VA announced it would exempt certain health care positions, interpreting them as necessary for public safety. President Trump has not extended this consideration to the thousands of positions that would help clear the backlog of health and disability claims or the thousands of veterans seeking civilian federal employment.

Warner and Kaine joined Ranking Members of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Representative Tim Walz (D-Minn.), along with nearly 50 other members of Congress in sending the letter to President Trump.

A copy of the letter is available below:

 

Dear President Trump:

We are deeply troubled that your freeze on the hiring of federal civilian employees will have a negative and disproportionate impact on our nation’s veterans.  As such, we urge you to take stock of this hiring freeze’s effect on our nation’s veterans and exempt the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as well as any veterans seeking federal employment from your Memorandum Regarding the Hiring Freeze.

While there can be no debate that the federal government, including VA, should be more efficient in its delivery of services to all Americans, a hiring freeze at VA will delay veterans’ access to health care and resolution of their disability claims, which for many of our nation’s heroes provides a sole source of income to them and their families.  Our nation’s veterans should not be made to sacrifice any more than they already have while you review federal hiring.

Have you considered how this hiring freeze will affect VA’s ability to provide veterans with access to health care?  For years, VA has faced chronic medical personnel shortages, particularly in rural areas.  As a result of the hiring freeze, the Department’s inability to hire clinicians and the administrative support teams to schedule appointments will have a direct impact on the number of veterans on waiting lists at facilities across the country.  Further, this will have an impact on community providers, who will be forced to continue waiting for delayed payments without VA having the ability to hire employees to process payments on their claims.  We urge you to re-evaluate this hiring freeze and take into account veterans who will face increased delay in accessing health care.

Have you considered how this hiring freeze will affect VA’s ability to provide veterans with decisions on their appeals for disability compensation?  More than 450,000 appeals are pending – that means that more than 450,000 veterans are waiting for the U.S. government to provide them with benefits earned while a disability was incurred while serving in our armed services.  Our nation’s veterans cannot afford an unnecessary wait to receive the benefits they have earned serving our country.  We urge you to re-evaluate this hiring freeze and take into account the effect it will have on veterans who will have to wait longer for earned benefits — whether it’s disability, survivor or education benefits, or whether it’s vocational rehabilitation or job training services.

Have you considered how this hiring freeze will impact those veterans who apply to federal jobs?  Veterans comprise 31 percent of the federal workforce and most receive a well-earned hiring preference when they apply for federal jobs.  An across-the-board freeze will hurt these veterans – many of whom are transitioning from military to civilian service, and many of whom are disabled. The negative impacts of this freeze will be felt across the country and disproportionately affect those men and women who have honorably served in our military.

Should you move forward with this hiring freeze, one issue that must not be overlooked is VA’s little-known mission of providing support to national efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and man-made catastrophes.  We urge you to classify VA’s delivery of health care as a national security and public safety responsibility, as outlined in your Presidential Memorandum Regarding Hiring Freeze, and exempt it from this hiring freeze.  To do otherwise is to jeopardize the national security and public safety of our nation.

Mr. President, this hiring freeze will have a dramatic impact on the quality of health care and benefits veterans receive.  We urge you to reconsider.


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