Congress has passed another bill (S. 114) with reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs that became law on August 12.
The bill is primarily being hailed for authorizing more funds for the Veterans Choice Program. While it certainly does that, it contains a number of other human resources functions.
Requirements for Rehiring Former Employees
The legislation outlines the terms under which the VA can rehire former employees. An employee must meet the following qualifications in order to be rehired:
- Have left the agency voluntarily or was subject to a reduction in force (RIF)
- Maintained a satisfactory performance record while at the VA previously
- Since leaving such position, he or she has maintained licensing requirements, related to the position, if any, and gained skill, knowledge, or other factors related to the position
The bill then stipulates that the VA Secretary may not appoint a qualified former employee to a position that is more than one grade (or equivalent) higher than his or her previously occupied position.
The bill directs the VA Secretary to set up a recruiting database that lists each vacant position in the agency that the Secretary determines is critical to the mission of the Department, difficult to fill, or both, along with each vacant position in the Department of Veterans Affairs for a mental health professional.
Training for HR Professionals
The bill directs the VA Secretary to provide training to HR professionals on how to best recruit and retain employees of the Veterans Health Administration, including with respect to any recruitment and retention matters that are unique to the agency. It stipulates that training will be provided virtually and on an annual basis.
The Secretary would also be required to send an annual report to Congress outlining the cost of the training and the number of HR professionals it was given to.
The bill directs the VA Secretary to develop exit surveys to be voluntarily completed by career and noncareer employees who leave the agency voluntarily. The survey data would be shared with directors and facility managers and also provided to Congress in an annual report. The report to Congress would include an analysis of the most common reasons employees choose to leave the VA and steps the Secretary is taking to improve employee retention.
Competitive Pay for Physician Assistants
The bill adds physician assistants to the list of occupations under 38 U.S. Code § 7451 designated to receive competitive pay.
Funding for the Veterans Choice Program
As noted previously, the bill reauthorizes funding for the Veterans Choice Program.
The Choice Program allows veterans who meet certain qualifications to seek care from health care providers outside VA. The VA Secretary had notified Congress in June that funding was running out due to high demand and would be depleted by mid August. The bill provides $2.1 billion to continue the Choice Program for six months while Congress works on other reforms to the Choice Program.