Although President Trump has lifted a federal hiring freeze, Virginia's two senators say the impact of what they call "an incredibly short-sighted measure" continues to hamstring the Hampton VA Medical Center.
The medical center has reported more than 200 open clinical positions. Even though the freeze granted exceptions for most clinical positions, it did not spare the human resources department, which is down 40 percent at Hampton.
Because HR oversees and processes hiring, the Hampton VA has had difficulty making new hires that had been allowed under the freeze, said Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine.
That difficulty hasn't gone away since Trump lifted the freeze April 12, they said. The senators requested more information Friday in a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
The senators' letter states that "it remains unclear whether facilities like the Hampton VAMC have the authority to restart hiring for these positions following M-17-22 (the memo that lifted the freeze) or whether they still require a specific exemption, which may delay the process."
Hampton recently reported it had 203 unfilled clinical positions, breaking down as follows: 14 physicians, 97 nurses, 14 nurse practitioners/physician assistants, 24 psychiatrists or psychologists, four in the area of dental care and 50 in other clinical disciplines that include therapists and dieticians.
"The inability to fill these positions due to the hiring freeze has undoubtedly caused delays for veterans seeking access to health care in Hampton Roads and across the Commonwealth," the letter states.
In addition to the 203, another approximately 100 positions were unfilled, which would include the HR jobs.
The senators want to know how many positions are unfilled across the VA and what, if any, additional resources or authorities are required to fill vacancies.
In addition to VA health-care positions, Kaine and Warner said they're concerned about the processing of veteran benefit claims.
"VA data shows a measurable increase in backlogged claims since the freeze's implementation," the letter states. "Administration staff have also indicated that the freeze has hindered their ability to process claims in a timely manner."
The letter notes that Virginia is home to more than 750,000 veterans and the number is growing.
Lessig can be reached by phone at 757-247-7821.