By Bruce Carruthers
The VA’s Office of the Inspector General recently released its annual staffing shortage report for Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities. It shows an alarming surge of “severe” staffing shortages over the last two years. (A severe shortage, broadly defined, occurs when vacancies in a particular vocation are consistently difficult to fill)
Between 2021 and 2022, severe staffing shortages increased by 21.8 percent; last year they increased by18.9 percent, leaving every single facility in the VA’s 50-state network struggling with at least two severe occupational staffing shortages.
The five clinical occupations with the most frequent shortages are (in ranked order):
o Practical Nurse
o Social Work
o Nursing Assistant
These shortages complicate the VA’s ability to deliver peerless care. They also portend more outsourcing of veteran care to the private sector and the slow dismantling of the VHA due to the diversion of a quarter of the it clinical care budget to pay private sector providers for care that could, if shortages were addressed, be delivered in-house. These personnel problems will only be exacerbated by the influx of new patients resulting from the PACT Act, which is anticipated to add 3.5 million veterans into the department care and benefits systems. They must become a top priority of the lawmakers, veterans’ advocates, and VA leadership.