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U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is taking action to ensure Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers have the senior leadership they need to provide the oversight and accountability veterans deserve.
Boozman recently introduced the Veterans Affairs Medical Center Absence and Notification Timeline (VACANT) Act, legislation that would limit the detailing of medical center directors to different positions within the VA. The bill requires the VA Secretary to ensure a plan is in place to fill vacant medical center director positions within 180 days of detailing.
The Fayetteville VA Medical Center had been without a permanent director since May 2021 until the VA announced the hire of a new director last week.
“It’s clear there is a lack of urgency to fill VA medical center director positions. We have a responsibility to ensure adequate leadership at medical centers is in place to provide vital oversight and meet the needs of veterans. The VACANT Act is critical to delivering the services and care our veterans have earned,” Boozman said.
The VACANT Act is included as a provision in the VA Careers (Clinician Appreciation, Recruitment, Education, Expansion, and Retention Support) Act, legislation Boozman and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced to bolster workforce recruitment and retention at the VA.
“As I visit with VA personnel across Arkansas, they frequently describe the persistent challenges with filling critical roles to provide care to veterans. Our legislation expands the VA workforce in communities nationwide and creates a sustainable pipeline, strengthening its ability to attract expert physicians. Ensuring the VA is properly staffed is key to fulfilling our promise to the men and women who served in uniform,” Boozman said.
“As Chairman, I often hear from veterans in Montana and across the country about the lack of providers in rural communities,” said Tester. “We need VA to hire providers faster and be able to retain high-quality talent in rural areas. That’s why I’m proud to be joining my friend Senator Boozman on this bipartisan effort to ensure VA can recruit the best and brightest clinicians to help deliver veterans—including those in rural areas—their earned health care and benefits.”
Among its many provisions the CAREERS Act will:
· Modernize the VA’s antiquated pay system for physicians and other high-level clinicians, which will particularly benefit rural and other hard-to-hire markets;
· Pay for licensure exam costs for future clinicians participating in the VA scholarship programs;
· Expand eligibility for more health care staff to be reimbursed for ongoing professional education costs; and
· Increase and fine-tune the VA’s workforce data reporting requirements to help the VA and Congress be better informed on how to improve the hiring and onboarding process for future employees enterprise-wide.
These legislative efforts expand on Boozman’s commitment to creating policies for better recruitment and retention of key VA personnel amid a tightening labor market. Last Congress, the senator championed the PACT Act, legislation signed into law that delivers toxic-exposed veterans their earned care and benefits, that included several provisions to bolster VA’s workforce, especially in rural areas.
Last year, Boozman questioned VA officials about the persistent staffing shortage and retention challenges. He also called on the department to prioritize veterans care and prevent its resources from being deployed to respond to the southern border crisis.