VA asks retired doctors, nurses to return to duty to help fight COVID-19

Abbie Bennett
March 23, 2020 - 5:03 pm
VADoctors

Department of Veterans Affairs

Department of Veterans Affairs leaders said recently that the agency had enough staff to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the department also put out a call to retired VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff: "We need you." 

VA is asking retired medical staff to come back to duty to help combat the coronavirus. 

"Help is in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic," social media posts from the department read. "Consider VA re-employment. Dual compensation waivers will be available." 

Last week, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie was asked about a report that showed more than 43,000 job vacancies at VA nationwide, including thousands of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. 

Wilkie dismissed the Government Accountability Office report from last September "silly," adding that VA has a larger budget than ever, provides more medical appointments than ever and has nearly 400,000 employees. 

VA has 'severe' shortage of nurses, psychiatrists and police, report shows

Watchdog groups such as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said last year staff shortages at VA were a “root cause” of veteran healthcare problems. Those vacancies included thousands of doctors, nurses and nursing assistants. 

Staff shortages a 'root cause' of veteran VA healthcare problems, watchdog tells Congress

The concern over VA staffing comes as more attention falls on the department’s fourth mission which is to serve as a last line of defense for all Americans in a national medical emergency, such as a pandemic. 

Former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin told Connecting Vets this week he believed VA staff shortages could be among the department’s greatest challenges in responding to the virus outbreak. 

“VA still has some of the best healthcare in the world, but now it’s been dealing with some of these systemic deficiencies for decades,” Shulkin said. 

In past disease outbreaks, Shulkin said as much as 35 percent of healthcare workers may not be able to show up for work.

“They get ill or have family members or other people they need to care for,” he said. “So you have an already-stressed system form understaffing, and now put increased demand on that system and then take away 35 percent of staff who may not be able to come to work. It can really turn into the perfect storm. At times of crisis, it can turn out to be the most problematic part of caring for patients.” 

VA Press Secretary Christina Mandreucci told Connecting Vets "VA has the appropriate amount of staff and no staffing issues are impacting its response to COVID-19." 

The president's fiscal year 2020 budget request projected 392,803 full-time employees, Mandreucci said. "VA currently has nearly 390,000 total onboard employees. So that means we're very close to where we told Congress we would be personnel-wise, and the vast majority of our unfilled positions are due to retirements and job changes."

Those interested in coming out of retirement to work again at VA can email vacareers@va.gov or apply at vacareers.va.gov

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Amid coronavirus spread, Wilkie calls report that showed 43,000 VA vacancies 'silly'

VA is a last line of defense in the US against national medical emergencies like pandemics

'We stand ready': Wilkie says VA is working to get more coronavirus tests, open more beds

VA doctor tested positive for COVID-19 but still saw patients before quarantine

VA tells Congress COVID-19 could affect 20 percent of its patients, asks for more money

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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