Former Vice President Joe Biden told reporters that, if elected president, he plans to fill the vacancies at the Department of Veterans Affairs and increase wages for employees to be competitive with the private sector. The VA now has more than 50,000 vacancies, up from 49,000 last year.
Biden told Stars and Stripes the VA’s biggest challenge is filling its tens of thousands of job vacancies. If elected president, Biden said he would increase the VA’s budget and boost employees’ pay.
“We can’t compete economically,” Biden said in a telephone interview, adding that it’s difficult for the VA to recruit health care workers when they can earn more money elsewhere. “The VA shortage is the canary in the coal mine of the whole medical system,” he said.
BETTER EQUIPPED TO CARE FOR VETERANS
Biden said even though some private care is still needed in rural areas, investing in the VA system will be a priority because the VA is better equipped to take care of veterans’ special needs.
“I do not under any circumstance support moving to total privatization,” he said. “There are unique problems the military encounters as a consequence of war and pressure. Everything from orthopedics to prostheses to mental health issues.”
SHARP CONTRAST WITH TRUMP
Biden’s position is in sharp contrast with that of the Trump administration, which has pushed to outsource care for veterans as much as possible and has refused to fill the vacancies and invest in VA facilities. Even though AFGE has consistently raised the issue on behalf of its members, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has told Congress that filling the vacancies just isn’t a priority for the Trump administration.
The vast majority of front-line VA health care employees who have risked their lives to care for veterans during the pandemic received no pandemic pay from the VA and were denied adequate personal protective equipment, the union says.
“We are very encouraged by Vice President Biden’s plan to address chronic short staffing at the Department of Veterans Affairs,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said. “The vacancies at the VA keep climbing. It is unacceptable and a disservice to our nation’s veterans that the VA health care system currently has over 50,000 vacancies.
“AFGE is proud to represent dedicated VA employees in every critical position at VA medical centers and we stand ready to work with the Biden Administration to ensure that physicians, nurses, and all front-line VA health care employees – including the housekeepers who keep patient rooms and ICUs germ-free and police officers who deescalate dangerous situations – earn adequate wages to bring this world-class veteran-centric health care system to full staffing levels,” he added.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with a new VA Secretary who values every VA employee and is committed to strengthening the VA health care system rather than dismantling it through privatization and intentional staffing shortages,” Kelley said.