07Fayetteville VA Med CtrWith an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, U.S. officials say there are more jobs available than workers. Historically, a 4 percent rate is considered full employment. Thousands of jobs at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country remain vacant because VA leaders contend they can’t find qualified candidates who want them, according to an internal report out this month.

Directors for 140 VA hospitals, including the Fayetteville VA, reported a total of 3,068 staff vacancies, indicated an annual VA Office of Inspector General report.

For the first time, the report included a breakdown of shortages for each hospital. The numbers don’t include all vacancies, but rather the ones the hospitals can’t fill. The report indicated the Fayetteville VA Medical Center had 43 clinical and non-clinical vacancies. The Durham VA had 51 shortages.

A lack of qualified candidates is not the only reason that VA directors can’t fill some of their open positions. Noncompetitive salaries, undesirable hours and inflexible work schedules result in high turnover for about half of the hospitals. “(One) facility stated that when a position had high turnover, it resulted in significant overtime, which resulted in even more turnover,” the report reads.

Mental health providers topped the list for the most-needed occupation. Of the 140 hospitals, 98 reported a shortage of psychiatrists, and 58 hospitals needed more psychologists. Congress passed legislation in August last year requiring the inspector general to report the shortages for each hospital. Each facility director provided the number of shortages as of the beginning of 2018.

The VA has hired 467 new mental health providers so far this year, and it’s aiming for a net increase of 1,000 providers by 2019, officials said.

“There’s no question VA needs to look at its hiring and retention programs nationwide, which is exactly why the committee required this OIG report,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “Clinician(s) and other medical facility staff shortages are not unique to VA, but the committee is continuing to look for opportunities to improve the department’s hiring and retention programs.”

“Appropriate staffing allows a medical facility to function at its full potential,” IG official Nathan McClafferty said in a statement. “It is critically important that VA medical facilities are properly staffed to ensure veterans are provided the best possible health care.”

A House subcommittee met June 21 to discuss the IG report and VA job vacancies in general. “This report should prompt meaningful discussions at both the local and national level about how to implement, support and oversee staffing in VA medical centers that will result in the highest possible quality of veteran care,” VA Inspector General Michael Missal said in a prepared statement.

President Trump has named Fayetteville native Robert Wilkie to be the nation’s next Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He has been acting VA secretary since late March. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

The VA is the second-largest federal agency, with more than 360,000 employees.

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