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Workforce Support Program Boosts Recruiting Push at VA

The agency is looking to expand childcare benefits, compensation and other forms of support given to its nationwide workforce.
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Workforce Support Program Boosts Recruiting Push at VA
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The Department of Veterans Affairs will be implementing a new workforce support plan designed to increase recruitment and better provide for existing VA employees.

As detailed by VA Secretary Denis McDonough, the agency intends to implement these with backing from Congress with the ultimate intention of boosting workforce morale, increasing employee retention, and improving the quality and delivery of VA services as a result.

“Veteran trust scores across VA rose by 3% last quarter alone, and outpatient trust scores are now above 90%. That’s because VA employees like you fight like hell for vets every day. It’s because you provide vets with timely access to world-class health care, earned benefits and the last resting place they deserve. And it’s because you have battled through the pandemic, getting VA to the point where — despite everything — we are now delivering more care, more benefits and more services to more veterans than ever before,” McDonough said in prepared remarks to VA employees.

VA has laid out 10 provisions the agency intends to implement, broadly intended to facilitate recruitment, reward existing VA employees, and compete with the private sector for critical talent.

VA has long struggled to compete with the private sector, with the agency seeming to recognize that its broader reforms and modernization programs are contingent on fostering a talent base necessary to support these. As a consequence, the agency is substantially increasing the benefits and support given to workers while reforming its hiring process.

“Some registered nurses here in Charleston, for example, can make $15,000 more by going to the private sector, and that number is as high as $40,000 in other markets,” McDonough said.

McDonough subsequently announced plans to work with Congress to pass the RAISE Act and similar legislative proposals that would bolster the funding given to the VA workforce, encompassing maintenance and service workers to medical and technical staff. The agency will also be looking to increase both worker bonuses and retention incentives as well.

“Right now, our nursing turnover rate is the highest it’s been in 15 years. When you factor in how many of our nurses are eligible to retire, that means we’ll have to hire about 15,000 nurses a year for the next five 5 years. And, in part, that turnover rate is so high because private-sector hospitals have been able to offer bonuses and retention payments that we couldn’t match,” McDonough said.

VA intends to match these with reforms designed to make both the hiring process and working at VA an easier process for employees. The agency will be streamlining new employees onboarding while providing a scope of new benefits and support for existing workers.

As outlined in McDonough’s presentation, these new benefits will include expanded remote work options, increased childcare support and additional funding toward the agency’s scholarship programs.

“For years, VA has offered $500 a month in childcare subsidies to employees whose family income is less than $89,000 per year. Now, we’re permanently raising that cap to include families who make up to $149,000 per year,” McDonough said.

Rounding out these expansions in employee support, VA will also be working to more comprehensive include the principles outlined in its inclusion-diversity-equity-and-access (IDEA) program within its hiring and management process, as well as distributing personal protective equipment to all VA employees with the intent of boosting pandemic safety.

“We’re already in the process of hiring a chief diversity officer, and we’re integrating IDEA principles into hiring, position management and talent management,” McDonough said.

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