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March 01, 2023

King: We Need to Staff Up at VA Medical Facilities to Serve Veterans

Senator raises issue of recruitment and retention for VA hospitals to meet demand for care

Watch or download Senator King’s questioning HERE

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today discussed staffing issue shortages at VA medical facilities and how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can help address any shortcomings. During the hearing, Vincent Troiola, the National Commander of the American Legion agreed that the VA is experiencing staffing shortfalls and that Congress must work with the Department to alleviate the challenges through the removal of salary caps and the creation of incentivized benefits.

This hearing builds on Senator King’s previous work to pass the VA CAREERS Act of 2023 out of SVAC, a bill that would help VA medical facilities hire and retain more staff.

In his conversation on staffing shortages with the Commander:

The other issue I'm concerned about, and I'd like your response, is VA staffing. If there's nobody to answer the phone, that's just not going to work for the veterans. Do you have thoughts about that? We just reported out the CAREERS Act last week, and I think that's going to help. But give me some thoughts on VA staffing and what we can do to improve it,” Senator King said.

Commander Troiola responded, “I'm glad you brought that up because I had a discussion about this just yesterday. We believe that VA needs to come up with some sort of incentives to increase their staffing. They have issues with physicians, and I guess there's a salary cap in there somewhere. But there's got to be some sort of an incentive, whether it's the commutes or the days they work or whatever it is. But this has to be solved. I travel all over the country and I visit VA hospitals. I visited about eight of them already. And we've found out that there's a severe shortage of mental health therapists. And it's a real problem because what is going to happen, especially with this PACT Act coming on, we're going to be in real trouble if we don't solve this problem soon.”

Well, and you mentioned there is a salary cap and it makes the recruiting physicians noncompetitive, basically with the private sector. I just learned that the salary cap is the president's salary. Nobody in the federal government can be more than the president. When I was governor of Maine, there were about 200 people in state government that made more than I did. So, I think we could live with moving that cap a little bit,” Senator King suggested.

Commander Troiola concluded, “We'd like to work together with you to see if we could come up with some sort of incentive or fix to this problem, because I think it's only going to get worse before it gets better as we have an influx of more veterans going into health care.”

As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator King works to oversee the VA and ensuring the proper implementation of various programs, such as the PACT Act and the John Scott Hannon Act. Senator King hopes to help improve the Department’s capacity by investing in its workforce, facilities, and other modernization efforts.  At a February “kickoff conversation” with Maine veterans at the American Legion Post in Brunswick, VA staffing issues were raised by panelists when Senator King invited feedback for his work on the committee.

Last year, Senator King conducted nine interviews with Maine veterans as part of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, an effort by the Library to collect, preserve and distribute the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. You can find or watch all nine of Senator King’s interviews HERE

Senator King is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and has repeatedly pressed for action from top DoD officials on the issue of servicemember suicide. Additionally, he recently spearheaded the passage of legislation to better track and study servicemember suicides by job assignment. Senator King has also worked to properly honor and recognize the sacrifices of Purple Heart medal recipientsprotect veterans from fraud, and expand veteran assisted living services.

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