Collins, King to President-Elect: Nix VA From Hiring Freeze to Ensure Veterans Receive Health Care Services

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As President-elect Donald Trump considers a 100-day hiring freeze for civilian federal employees, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) today urged him not to include critical personnel from the Department of Veterans Affairs who work to provide care and support to veterans in Maine and across the nation.

 

In a letter sent to the President-elect today, the Senators wrote that the hiring freeze could leave critical positions at Vets Centers in Caribou and Portland unfilled and effectively deny Maine veterans the health care services they need and have earned through their service.

 

“We are writing to urge you to exclude mission-critical employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs from your proposed 100-day civilian federal employee hiring freeze. You have said that the hiring freeze would not apply to personnel who work to ensure public safety and public health, so we are hopeful that you will agree that direct care providers and their necessary support staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs, who serve the critical health needs of veterans, meet that standard,” Senators Collins and King wrote in their letter. “Otherwise, we are concerned that a hiring freeze could leave critical roles, including positions at Vet Centers in Maine, vacant. This would limit the ability of those who served our Nation to receive the high-quality care they need and deserve.”

 

In October 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump announced an action plan for his first 100 days in office, the second measure of which is a proposal to place a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the workforce through attrition.

 

The complete text of the letter can be read HERE and is below:

 

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January 10, 2017

 

Dear President-elect Trump,

 

We are writing to urge you to exclude mission-critical employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs from your proposed 100-day civilian federal employee hiring freeze. You have said that the hiring freeze would not apply to personnel who work to ensure public safety and public health, so we are hopeful that you will agree that direct care providers and their necessary support staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs, who serve the critical health needs of veterans, meet that standard. Otherwise, we are concerned that a hiring freeze could leave critical roles, including positions at Vet Centers in Maine, vacant. This would limit the ability of those who served our Nation to receive the high-quality care they need and deserve.  

 

In Maine, which has one of the highest number of veterans per capita in the United States, there are several critical staffing vacancies at Vet Centers, which provide a variety of critical social and psychological service to veterans. Due to the current staffing vacancies at Vet Centers in Caribou and Portland, veterans are not receiving the level and consistency of care they have earned through their service to our nation. While we have urged the Veterans Health Administration to take immediate action to fill these vacancies, we are concerned that if they remain unfilled during the transition to the new Administration, a hiring freeze would only continue to prevent veterans from receiving these vital services.

 

In your Ten Point Plan for the VA, you advocate for increased mental health care professionals.  We deeply hope and urge you to keep the following mental health-related staffing inadequacies, and the needs of Maine Veterans, in mind as you evaluate the scope of your hiring freeze:

 

  • Caribou, Maine: The Caribou Vet Center is tasked with serving the needs of Veterans throughout Aroostook County. While the Center is authorized to have five employees, it has had multiple vacancies for some time. This lack of availability of consistent counseling is a disservice to the Veterans in Northern Maine.  

 

  • Portland, Maine: The Portland Vet Center is authorized to have a staff of six, but currently has a staff of four and lacks administrative staff. As such, we understand that current staff may be covering their jobs addressing mental health needs, as well as taking on the additional responsibilities of basic administrative duties.

 

Again, we believe that a continuation of these vacancies due to a proposed federal civilian hiring freeze would not be in the best interests of Maine veterans, who served their country in uniform and deserve unencumbered access to the highest quality of care. We urge you to exclude the vital personnel at the Department of Veterans Affairs from the hiring freeze so that no veteran will be put at risk.