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VA Official Testifies That President Trump’s Hiring Ban Could Harm Veterans Health

Feb 17, 2017
Press Release

VA Official Testifies That President Trump’s Hiring Ban Could Harm Veterans Health

 

Connolly Praises Work of Union in Protecting VA Whistleblowers

 

Washington, D.C. (Feb. 17, 2017)—During a hearing yesterday before the Subcommittee on Government Operations and the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity,  Ranking Member Gerry Connolly submitted for the record data provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) indicating that more than 9,000 critical jobs at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) will remain unfilled because of President Donald Trump’s federal hiring ban.

The ban exempts positions that provide direct patient care or ensure a safe place to provide patient care, but it does not exempt thousands of key support and logistics positions.  If the VA is not able to fill these positions, doctors and nurses will spend their time on administrative tasks instead of treating patients, and wait times for veterans will increase nationwide.

During the hearing, Kimberly McLeod, the Acting Director of Labor-Management Relations at VA, testified that these positions serve “critical functions.”  She also testified that the ban will prevent thousands of veterans from competing for these positions:

Connolly:  32% of the VA’s employees are veterans, is that correct?

McLeod:  I believe so, yes. …

Connolly:  So if there are 9,000 vacancies, and about 32% are veterans, currently, you could say that, in theory, there are 3,000 positions that could be filled by a veteran that won’t be because of a hiring freeze.  Fair enough?

McLeod:  Sure, yes.

Connolly:  So we’re talking about the opportunity cost of official time, but what we’re not talking about are 9,000 jobs—at least 3,000 of them logically filled by a veteran—that are going to go vacant.  And these are for critical functions, are they not, Ms. McLeod?

McLeod:  Yes.

During the hearing, which was called by Republicans to criticize the work of unions and their use of “official time” to assist federal employees, Ranking Member Connolly also entered into the record a letter from Dr. Michelle A. Washington, a VA psychologist who faced retaliation after testifying before Congress.  Her union representative from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) used “official time” to help her address the retaliation.  She wrote:

“Because of the retaliation, I contacted my local AFGE representatives and they were only able to help me at designated periods of time when they were allowed to use official time.  My union representative was a member of the clinical staff at the facility and only had 1-2 hours per day to do representational work, and use official time to research OPM regulations, as well as write up and file the grievances.  Through the use of official time my union representative could attend meetings with me in attempts to address the retaliation.  The use of official time helped me fight the unjustified actions and made a tremendous difference in my being able to successfully resolve my case.” 

Ranking Member Connolly said:

“The retaliatory actions taken against Dr. Washington were illegal.  Last week, the Oversight Committee strengthened these protections when it unanimously passed a bill that I introduced with Rep. Duffy, H.R. 657, the Follow the Rules Act.  However, it is not enough to pass these laws and pay lip service at occasional hearings.  These protections must be enforced.  In the workplace, federal employee unions enforce the whistleblower laws Congress passes, and they do it on official time.  Current law allows unions to stand up for federal employees facing retaliation in the workplace.”

115th Congress