VA staff hiring, retention efforts falling short, AFGE survey says

A survey conducted by the American Federation of Government Employees has found the Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t hiring and retaining enough staff to keep up with its needs. Photo credit File photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs is falling short when it comes to hiring and retaining the staff necessary to keep up with increasing demands for VA health care and benefits.

That’s the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by the American Federation of Government Employees that stands in stark contrast to what VA officials told reporters during a media roundtable on March 21.

In its report, the AFGE found that the VHA workforce Is “experiencing serious underfunding and understaffing. Tens of thousands of vital jobs are going unfilled. Sixty percent of respondents reported losing key resources, especially staff, over the last four years. Ninety-five percent said their facilities needed more frontline staff. Seventy-five percent said they needed more administrative/support staff. Seventy-seven percent said that there are vacant positions for which no recruitment is taking place.”

The results are the result of a survey done by AFGE’s National VA Council and the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute in the spring of 2022. The survey was sent to 90,000 VA employees represented by AFGE. Of those, 2,000 responded to the survey.

VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal on Monday told reporters that the Veteran Health Administration’s total workforce has grown by 2.5% or 9,590 employees thus far in Fiscal Year 2023.

“That’s almost 10,000 employees by which our workforce has grown,” he said. “We’ve almost reached 400,000 employees in the healthcare system within VA alone. That is the highest growth rate in more than 20 years.”

In addition, a vast majority – 77% – of AFGE survey respondents said that recruitment is not happening for some vacant jobs. Respondents said more clinical and administrative staff is needed.

Elnahal said the VHA’s hiring is focused on “the big seven” occupations at the point of care, including nurses and care coordinators and that the uptick in hiring is largely related to the PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxic) Act, which was signed into law on Aug. 10, 2022.

However, according to AFGE, VA is not utilizing all the authority the PACT Act gave it to hire and retain staff and to provide recruitment, retention and relocation incentives.

“In scores of comments, VBA employees reported job dissatisfaction and burnout, due mostly to understaffing and unrealistic performance standards,” the survey adds.

The PACT Act provides VA healthcare and benefits to veterans of all eras exposed to toxins as a result of their military service. Elnahal said an additional 27,000 veterans have been enrolled in the VA system due to the legislation.

“The bottom line is that we are hiring at a record pace and retaining better than in the immediately previous years, which is great news,” he stressed. “And we are instructing my teams across the system to not let up on this momentum.”

The AFGE survey made several recommendations, including fully staffing and funding both the Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration and rescinding the Human Resources Modernization project and reassigning HR staff to local facilities.

Reach Julia LeDoux at

Featured Image Photo Credit: File photo