The Department of Veterans Affairs waited until just before 5 pm on the Friday before Labor Day weekend to release eye-popping job vacancies data: the agency currently has a whopping 45,239 overall vacancies, 40,456 (89%) of which belong to the Veterans Health Administration.
Any veteran who's had to deal with insane wait times at their local VA medical center know that staffing at the agency has a direct impact on its ability to deliver effective care to patients, a subject that drew the ire of Montana Sen. Jon Tester, ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans' Affairs committee, during an interview with the Washington Post back in April.
“It’s crippling our ability to deliver health care to our vets,” Tester said at the time. “ It’s effectively pushing veterans outside the system.”
But the new VA vacancy report, legally mandated under the recently-passed VA Mission Act to increase personnel transparency at the beleaguered agency, is disturbing for two reasons.
- Back in April, VA spokesman Curt Cashour stated that there were "more than 33,000 full-time vacancies as of early March," per the Washington Post, adding that the department "has added nearly 15,000 slots since Trump came into office." Given the well-documented problem with VA hiring and retention detailed in a December 2017 Government Accountability Office report, this makes the successes touted by the VA increasingly suspect.
- Dropping a legally required transparency report at 5 pm before a holiday weekend is what's known as a "Friday news dump," a move designed to avoid media attention surrounding potentially negative news stories. It's a classic DC public relations news: if you have to stand up and say something bad, try to do it when nobody's listening. It's also shady as hell!
To be clear, this is not a problem specific t0 the Trump administration: a 2015 analysis by USA Today found that, under then-VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the VHA alone boasted some 41,500 job vacancies for medical professionals, more than the number listed in the agency's Friday news dump.
That said, Trump did inform Congress on Thursday that he was canceling the 2.1 pay raise for civilian federal employees set for January. Chances are that won't do wonders for recruiting and retention, especially for high-demand medical specialists — and that means things are only going to get worse before they get better for patients who rely on the VA for care.