The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health June 21 held a hearing titled, “More Than Just Filling Vacancies: A Closer Look at VA Hiring Authorities, Recruiting and Retention.” Witnesses represented Partnership for Public Service, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
While the hearing examined employment vacancies across the entire VA system, House VA Committee Chairman Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.) shared concerns over national physician shortages, citing AAMC’s projection of a physician shortage of 40,000 to 120,000 by 2030.
Several committee members focused on specific recruitment incentives that VA could use to encourage physicians to consider working at the VA. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) asked Peter Shelby, Assistant Secretary, VA Office of Human Resources and Administration, about successful recruitment strategies. Mr. Shelby suggested that VA needs to catch students earlier in their training, whether as undergraduates or early in medical school. Reps. Clay Higgins (R-La.) and J. Luis Correa (D-Calif.) also conversed with Mr. Shelby about recruitment, applauding an innovative idea for VA recruitment and reinforcing that financial incentives are largely lacking from VA’s hiring offers.
These ideas were highlighted in the recently passed VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act (P.L. 115-182), which included various loan repayment and scholarship opportunities for VA to offer as recruitment incentives [see Washington Highlights, May 25]. However, Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) noted concern over pending legislation, Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act (H.R. 4508), sponsored by House Education and Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), which would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 15, 2017]. Rep. Kuster noted that loan forgiveness is an important recruiting tool both inside and outside the VA.
This hearing followed a June 13 Health Subcommittee hearing on pending legislation that addressed multiple bills, including three focusing on hiring and recruitment to VA. The VA Hospitals Establishing Leadership Performance Act (H.R. 5864) would direct the VA Secretary to create qualifications for human resources positions in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The Veterans-Specific Education for Tomorrow’s Medical Doctors (VET MD) Act (H.R. 2787) directs the VA Secretary to establish a pilot for physician shadowing programs. Finally, the VA Hiring Enhancement Act (H.R. 5521) would permit VHA to make contingent appointments two years before the completion of residency to better align with the private sector.