01.26.17

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin: Federal hiring freeze will delay veterans’ access to care and benefits, hurt veterans seeking federal jobs

55 Members of Congress Demand Trump Exempt Entire VA from Hiring Freeze

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined Ranking Members of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Representative Tim Walz (D-MN), and a group of 52 members of Congress in demanding President Trump exempt the entire VA and all veterans seeking federal jobs from his executive order that freezes federal hiring.

The members say Trump’s hiring freeze will have devastating impacts on veterans and their families.

“A hiring freeze at the VA will delay veterans’ access to health care and resolution of their disability claims, which for many of our nation’s heroes provides a sole source of income to them and their families,” the members wrote.  “Our nation’s veterans should not be made to sacrifice any more than they already have while you review federal hiring.”

The members additionally called on Trump to exempt all veterans seeking employment from his hiring freeze, underscoring that veterans make up 31 percent of the federal workforce. A hiring freeze across the federal government will hurt veterans, many of whom are transitioning from the military to civilian service and may be disabled.

“The negative impacts of this freeze will be felt across the country and disproportionately affect those men and women who have honorably served in our military,” they added.

The Senators and Representatives emphasized that the hiring freeze will add to the chronic workforce shortages that are plaguing the VA, and that more doctors, nurses and administrative staff are needed at VA facilities to reduce wait times across the country and make payments on time.

The VA has reported it currently has more than 45,000 vacancies.

Dr. David Shulkin, Trump’s VA Secretary nominee, has said "I need to fill every one of those openings in order to make sure that we're doing the very best for our veterans." 

The VA has also reported that more than 40 percent of its senior officials are currently eligible for retirement.  Efforts to replace each of these employees would be dramatically impaired by the hiring freeze.      

There are currently more than 450,000 veterans waiting for the VA to fulfill the government’s commitment and provide them with the benefits they earned while serving the country.

“I urge you to re-evaluate this hiring freeze and take into account the effect it will have on veterans who will have to wait longer for earned benefits,” the group added.

Acting VA Director Robert Snyder this week said the VA will continue to hire front-line caregivers despite the President’s executive order, but the members want the entire VA exempt from the hiring freeze—including support staff, schedulers, IT specialists, and payment processers.

The text of the letter to President Trump is available below, as is the list of members of Congress who signed the letter.

Dear President Trump:

We are deeply troubled that your freeze on the hiring of federal civilian employees will have a negative and disproportionate impact on our nation’s veterans.  As such, we urge you to take stock of this hiring freeze’s effect on our nation’s veterans and exempt the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as well as any veterans seeking federal employment from your Memorandum Regarding the Hiring Freeze. 

While there can be no debate that the federal government, including VA, should be more efficient in its delivery of services to all Americans, a hiring freeze at VA will delay veterans’ access to health care and resolution of their disability claims, which for many of our nation’s heroes provides a sole source of income to them and their families.  Our nation’s veterans should not be made to sacrifice any more than they already have while you review federal hiring. 

Have you considered how this hiring freeze will affect VA’s ability to provide veterans with access to health care?  For years, VA has faced chronic medical personnel shortages, particularly in rural areas.  As a result of the hiring freeze, the Department’s inability to hire clinicians and the administrative support teams to schedule appointments will have a direct impact on the number of veterans on waiting lists at facilities across the country.  Further, this will have an impact on community providers, who will be forced to continue waiting for delayed payments without VA having the ability to hire employees to process payments on their claims.  We urge you to re-evaluate this hiring freeze and take into account veterans who will face increased delay in accessing health care.

Have you considered how this hiring freeze will affect VA’s ability to provide veterans with decisions on their appeals for disability compensation?  More than 450,000 appeals are pending – that means that more than 450,000 veterans are waiting for the U.S. government to provide them with benefits earned while a disability was incurred while serving in our armed services.  Our nation’s veterans cannot afford an unnecessary wait to receive the benefits they have earned serving our country.  We urge you to re-evaluate this hiring freeze and take into account the effect it will have on veterans who will have to wait longer for earned benefits -- whether it’s disability, survivor or education benefits, or whether it’s vocational rehabilitation or job training services.

Have you considered how this hiring freeze will impact those veterans who apply to federal jobs?  Veterans comprise 31 percent of the federal workforce and most receive a well-earned hiring preference when they apply for federal jobs.  An across-the-board freeze will hurt these veterans – many of whom are transitioning from military to civilian service, and many of whom are disabled. The negative impacts of this freeze will be felt across the country and disproportionately affect those men and women who have honorably served in our military.

Should you move forward with this hiring freeze, one issue that must not be overlooked is VA’s little-known mission of providing support to national efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and man-made catastrophes.  We urge you to classify VA’s delivery of health care as a national security and public safety responsibility, as outlined in your Presidential Memorandum Regarding Hiring Freeze, and exempt it from this hiring freeze.  To do otherwise is to jeopardize the national security and public safety of our nation. 

Mr. President, this hiring freeze will have a dramatic impact on the quality of health care and benefits veterans receive.  We urge you to reconsider.

Signers:

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)
Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH)
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Sen. Angus King (I-ME)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI)
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI)
Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41)
Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26)
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (NH-2)
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX-16)
Rep. Kathleen M. Rice (NY-4)
Rep. J. Luis Correa (CA-46)