01.31.20

Senate Committee Passes Gardner, Peters Legislation to Improve VA Staffing Times

Washington, D.C. – This week the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed S. 450, the Veterans Improved Access and Care Act, which was introduced by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI). Gardner and Peters’ legislation will hold the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accountable to a higher standard for hiring process timelines when filling staffing shortages at the VA medical facilities.

This legislation is part of Gardner’s VA Readiness Initiative, which he announced to ensure the federal government is always ready to assist veterans and prepared to fulfill the promises our country has made to them. Senators Gardner and Peters introduced the Veterans Improved Access and Care Act following an explosive Inspector General report Gardner demanded that revealed secret wait lists at a number of Colorado VA facilities, leading to unacceptable delays in care for veterans. A critical piece of improved access to care is addressing medical provider staffing shortages.

“In order to reduce wait times and provide timely care to our veterans, we must address the root of the problem at many VA facilities in Colorado and across the country: staffing shortages,” said Senator Gardner. “When it comes to the VA hiring medical professionals we cannot let government bureaucracy and red tape stand in the way. My bipartisan legislation will take meaningful action to hold the VA to a higher standard for its hiring process and make sure facilities are hiring the medical professionals needed to serve our veterans.”

“It’s critical that the VA medical facilities our veterans rely on are fully staffed by qualified doctors, nurses and health care professionals,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I am pleased that this bipartisan bill to help address the staffing shortage and streamline the VA hiring process has advanced to the full Senate. I’m hopeful the Senate will pass this important legislation soon, so we can help ensure veterans in Michigan and across the nation can access the timely, quality medical care that they have earned. 

VA data from 2018 showed that roughly 17 percent of medical appointments scheduled through the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS) had a wait time of over 30 days. Those numbers are worse than a 2017 Denver Post report on ECHCS wait times, which found the average wait time to see a primary physician at a VA facility nationwide was under 5 days, but the Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS) had an average wait time of 11 days, and roughly 14 percent of all appointments at the ECHCS had longer than a 30-day wait.

Many VA hospitals continue to experience long wait times and staffing shortages as a result of a lengthy hiring process, and a primary driver of the protracted hiring process is the onboarding process for licensed medical providers. According to a McKinsey and Company Assessment from September 2015, the VA hiring timeline spans 4-8 months while a typical private sector organization hires staff between 0.5 and 2 months. Furthermore, “candidates for many roles are often unwilling to wait roughly six months to be onboarded, especially when positions with other hospitals are readily available.”

Gardner and Peters’ legislation aims to address this problem by holding every VA medical facility to a higher standard of 45 days to onboard licensed medical professionals, as well as an improved timeline for the overall staffing process. This aligns with the VA’s guidance on hiring goals and timelines. To achieve this purpose, it requires annual reporting from the VA Secretary to Congress on whether the VA is meeting the metrics.

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.