WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee teamed up with Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) to introduce bipartisan legislation to bolster the recruitment and retention of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) workforce.
The VA Workforce Improvement, Support, and Expansion (WISE) Act of 2022 would provide increased pay and benefits for VA’s workforce, expand opportunities in rural VA facilities, support training for current and future VA clinicians, and provide additional oversight of VA Human Resource operations and their use of hiring authorities. This legislation will also better prepare VA to respond to current and future toxic exposure claims.
“The VA’s persistent staffing shortages and retention challenges have the potential to impact the care of our veterans,” Boozman said. “We must ensure there is always an adequate level of dedicated medical professionals capable of meeting the needs of our former servicemembers, no matter where they live. Our legislation creates a pipeline for the VA health workforce by incentivizing physicians and nurses to pursue and continue careers helping veterans. This is a reasonable solution to ensure we have the proper resources to fulfill the promise we made to the men and women who answered the call to serve in our nation’s uniform.”
“VA employees are the backbone of the Department, so it’s critically important that we’re doing everything we can to get more qualified folks to fill these positions,” said Tester. “Ensuring competitive pay and benefits for these hard-working men and women should be a no-brainer, which is why we’re introducing this commonsense bill that’ll open more doors to employment in rural areas like Montana—doing right by those committed to serving those who’ve served us.”
Among its many provisions, the VA WISE Act of 2022 will:
- Allow increased pay for VA employees;
- Extend the Department's hiring, recruitment and retention authorities, including extending temporary appointments and waiving pay limitations for employees performing mission critical work during the national health emergency;
- Direct VA to develop and implement a national VA Rural Recruitment and Hiring Plan, including best practices for recruiting health care professionals to rural VA facilities; and
- Create a Rural Health Quality and Access Fellowship program for graduate or post-graduate health care professionals to serve at a rural or highly rural VA facilities.
Veterans Service Organizations have applauded this legislative effort to increase support for VA’s workforce and fill critical VA positions nationwide.
“We applaud the provisions that will strengthen HR, increase pay, improve hiring authorities and offer flexibility which will provide VA with the tools to recruit and retain its valuable workforce,” said Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs’ (NOVA) President TJ Wilcox-Olson. “The pandemic has shown us all that a strong healthcare workforce must be a priority—as nurses who take care of veterans, we believe an investment in VA's workforce is critical to continue to meet its mission of offering timely access to world class care for all veterans.”
“Filling its available positions with the right people has been an ongoing challenge for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Associate Executive Director for Government Relations Heather Ansley. “The VA Workforce Improvement, Support, and Expansion (WISE) Act of 2022 gives VA the ability to ensure that it has the staff to meet veterans' health care needs.”
Last week, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on ways VA can better recruit and retain key personnel amid a tightening labor market. Boozman questioned VA officials about the persistent staffing shortage and retention challenges. He called on the department to prioritize veterans care and prevent its resources from being deployed to fix the southern border crisis.
Text of the VA WISE Act of 2022 can be found here.