WASHINGTON — On Saturday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its figures on employment vacancies as of June 30, as mandated each quarter under the recently passed MISSION Act.

VA reported the following vacancies:

45,239 overall vacancies at the department, out of a total of 419,353 full-time authorized and budgeted positions.

This overall number of vacancies includes:

40,456 vacancies in the Veterans Health Administration, out of a total of 375,953 full-time authorized and budgeted positions

1,978 vacancies in the Veterans Benefits Administration, out of a total of 25,560 full-time authorized and budgeted positions

233 vacancies in the National Cemetery Administration, out of a total of 2,179 full-time authorized and budgeted positions

2,572 vacancies in the department’s Staff Offices, out of a total of 15,661 full-time authorized and budgeted positions

“President Trump has made it clear that achieving the optimal workforce at VA is a top priority as we look to provide the best care and benefits to our nation’s heroes,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “My priority has been to have a clear and accurate picture of our vacancies, and getting this information out publicly is an important step in transparency to Veterans and taxpayers.”

With approximately 374,000 current employees, VA is the second largest federal organization in the United States.  From the start of fiscal year (FY) 2014 to the end of FY 2017, VA achieved a growth rate of 12.5 percent and an average annual turnover (i.e., total loss) rate of 9.2 percent.

VA turnover rates compare favorably with other large cabinet-level agencies, which averaged 11 percent in FY 2017.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest administration within VA, accounting for approximately 335,000 of VA’s 374,000 employees.

VHA turnover rates compare favorably with the healthcare industry, including for those occupations identified as mission critical. In FY 2017, VHA’s annual turnover rate for full-time and part-time employees was 9.1 percent, which compares well to the healthcare industry turnover rate of 20-30 percent.

There is a consistent turnover of employees in large organizations such as VHA due to normal retirements and job changes.  

Vacancies represent current unencumbered positions due to turnover and new positions that are planned to meet an anticipated growth in services.  

VHA has approximately 40,000 vacancies, which is consistent with the historical annual 9 percent turnover rate and a 2-3 percent growth rate.

Staffing plans consider normal rates of workforce turnover, retirement, and growth, and the expectation that there will always be vacant positions.  

Each year, VHA hires more employees than it loses to replace turnover and keep up with the growth in demand for services.  

The best indicators of adequate staffing levels include Veteran access to care and health care outcomes – not vacancies:

VA now provides same-day services for care needs right away at all primary care and mental health clinics

In FY18 to date, 21 percent of all appointments have been completed the same day that the appointment was requested

The average time it took to complete an urgent referral to a specialist has decreased from 19.3 days in FY14 to 3.2 days in FY17 and 2.0 days in FY18 - this number continues to improve now down to 1.3 days during July of 2018

VA completed 95 percent of follow-up appointments no later than the provider recommended date for time sensitive appointments in FY to date

According to a recent RAND Corp. study, Veterans receive the same or better care at VA medical centers as patients at non-VA hospitals

For inpatient care specifically, VA hospitals performed on average the same or significantly better than non-VA hospitals on 21 of 26 measures

VA performed significantly better than commercial and Medicaid Health Maintenance Organizations on 28 of 30 measures, with no difference on the other two

Although there was variation in performance across VA, the variation was even wider among non-VA hospitals

“Despite a challenging and ultra-competitive market for filling healthcare positions across the country, VA has worked with Congress and other key stakeholders to deploy a number of new and important tools to help us reduce our vacancies,” said Secretary Wilkie. “We are always looking for new ways to recruit high-quality talent, and will continue to do everything we can to provide the best quality care for our nation’s Veterans.”