VA medical facilities say that non-competitive salaries, high staff turnover and a lack of qualified applicants are the primary reasons behind the department’s difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees, particularly in the medical fields, according to an IG report.
Inadequate pay commonly is blamed for shortfalls in other federal occupations, particularly in cybersecurity and other IT-related fields; shortcut hiring procedures and various types of financial incentives commonly are recommended as a response. However the report said the problem persists at the VA even though it already uses such flexibilities.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee plans a hearing Thursday to consider VA recruiting and retention issues, including findings of the report and those of a 2017 GAO report which found the department does not have even a good count of its medical personnel and has not fully evaluated its recruitment and retention programs.
An IG survey of 141 VA medical facilities found that psychiatry, HR management, primary care, psychology and medical technologist were the occupations most commonly designated as shortage categories. “Facilities reported encountering recruitment challenges generally related to the competition for quality healthcare professionals. . . Facilities noted that many position descriptions and their associated pay determinations were too low to be competitive with private sector salaries.”
It said that the facilities “have made use of multiple recruitment endeavors such as special salary rates, incentives (for recruitment, relocation, and retention), and the education debt reduction program. It was noted that even with these options, recruitment challenges continued for certain professions.” The VA also uses streamlined “direct hire” procedures for a variety of occupations, some in the medical field, but “without the financial resources to fund the positions [that authority] has little impact.”