45,239 Vacancies at the VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs has released a new report on vacancies at the agency.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced its figures on employment vacancies as of June 30.

Number of Vacancies

The VA has reported the vacancies as follows:

  • 45,239 overall vacancies at the department, out of a total of 419,353 full-time authorized and budgeted positions. This overall number of vacancies includes: 40,456 vacancies in the Veterans Health Administration, out of a total of 375,953 full-time authorized and budgeted positions
  • 1,978 vacancies in the Veterans Benefits Administration, out of a total of 25,560 full-time authorized and budgeted positions
  • 233 vacancies in the National Cemetery Administration, out of a total of 2,179 full-time authorized and budgeted positions
  • 2,572 vacancies in the department’s Staff Offices, out of a total of 15,661 full-time authorized and budgeted positions

“President Trump has made it clear that achieving the optimal workforce at VA is a top priority as we look to provide the best care and benefits to our nation’s heroes,” according to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “My priority has been to have a clear and accurate picture of our vacancies, and getting this information out publicly is an important step in transparency to Veterans and taxpayers.”

With approximately 374,000 current employees, the VA is the second largest federal organization in government. From the start of fiscal year (FY) 2014 to the end of FY 2017, the VA has had a growth rate of 12.5%. The average annual turnover rate is 9.2%. The VA turnover rates compare favorably with other large cabinet-level agencies, which averaged 11% in FY 2017.

The agency also notes there is a national shortage of healthcare professionals, especially for physicians and nurses and this shortage impacts the VA as well as other health care organizations.

Veterans Health Administration Vacancies

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest administration within VA, accounting for approximately 335,000 of VA’s 374,000 employees. VHA turnover rates compare favorably with the healthcare industry, including for those occupations identified as mission critical. In FY 2017, VHA’s annual turnover rate for full-time and part-time employees was 9.1%, compared to the healthcare industry turnover rate of 20-30%.

Vacancies are current unencumbered positions due to turnover and new positions planned anticipated growth in services. VHA has approximately 40,000 vacancies, which is consistent with the historical annual 9% turnover rate and a 2-3% growth rate.

Staffing plans consider normal rates of workforce turnover, retirement, and growth, and the expectation that there will always be vacant positions. Each year, VHA hires more employees than it loses to replace turnover and keep up with the growth in demand for services.

The agency emphasizes that the best indicators of adequate staffing levels include Veteran access to care and health care outcomes and not the number of vacant positions.

In support of its job performance, the agency cited the following:

  • The VA now provides same-day services for care needs right away at all primary care and mental health clinics.
    In FY18 to date, 21% of all appointments have been completed the same day that the appointment was requested.
  • The average time to complete an urgent referral to a specialist has decreased from 19.3 days in FY14 to 3.2 days in FY17 and 2.0 days in FY18. The performance is continuing to improve and was down to 1.3 days in July 2018.
  • VA completed 95% of follow-up appointments no later than the provider recommended date for time sensitive appointments in FY to date.
  • According to a recent RAND Corp. study, Veterans receive the same or better care at VA medical centers as patients at non-VA hospitals.
  • For inpatient care specifically, VA hospitals performed on average the same or significantly better than non-VA hospitals on 21 of 26 measures.
  • VA performed significantly better than commercial and Medicaid Health Maintenance Organizations on 28 of 30 measures, with no difference on the other two.
  • Although there was variation in performance across VA, the variation was even wider among non-VA hospitals.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47