I work with and have personal relationships with many veterans who have honorably served this nation in ways that many people can’t begin to fathom. Today’s notice of temporary hiring freezes has me and other mental health pros in knots.
Hiring freezes were called for all federal employment that doesn’t directly impact national security. The press secretary, Sean Spicer, elaborated saying that the administration wants to make sure that the chosen pick to lead the VA is confirmed, and stated that the freeze is only meant to pause hiring until further analysis can be done and a plan created to fix things.
“When you have a system that’s not working, and then going out and hiring additional people doesn’t seem to be the most efficient way of solving the problem….And I think the VA in particular, if you look at the problems that have plagued people, hiring more people isn’t the answer, it’s hiring the right people, putting the procedures in place that ensure that our veterans - whether health care or mortgages or other services that VA provides to those who have served our nation - get the services that they’ve earned.” - Press Secretary Sean Spicer
The implication here is that the wrong people are presently employed at the VA using erroneous processes and that by redoing the processes and eventually hiring better people, the VA will be able to better serve people. No information was provided about the interim where veterans will remain in clogged waiting rooms, or months long waiting lists for services.
Spicer failed to acknowledge one of the clearer aspects of the wait time for services, which is that demand for these services has increased since we have been in active deployment rotation since 2003. Our military has been under extreme stress. This has resulted in an increased number of physical and mental health concerns for returning and separating service members. This isn’t merely a matter of backward procedures or low quality staff - the demand for these services has increased.
This nation makes a promise when someone volunteers to give up their time, way of life, family, health, and even very existence in defense of it - to provide that person with appropriate healthcare should that person require it as a result of their service. The President clearly wants to provide that service that is earned, per Spicer, but he fails to account for how long this interim process will take or how it may affect veterans waiting for services today or those that will begin their wait next week or later.
National average wait times are about one month long for VA assistance at present. The retirement or choice to quit by even a switchboard operator during this hiring freeze can have detrimental trickle down effects that will increase wait times. Imagine if a doctor or nurse or two at each hospital or clinic retires or quits now. If a claims processor quits. There is no hiring at present and so those jobs would remain vacant, further increasing wait times and straining remaining staff increasing the likelihood they abandon ship as well.
With no time frame discussed other than “temporary” I’m very concerned for all of those who are in need of VA services. “Temporary” is like “couple” or “few” - it’s open to interpretation.
The number of veterans committing suicide each day is 22. That’s 22 too high. This number must not go up - it must go down. If our loss is 22 veterans a day with one month waiting times/access to service, what will it be if there is staff loss/workload increase during the hiring freeze?
This hiring freeze will also affect people who are applying for social security disability and may place increased strain on this population who are often in need of healthcare and financial assistance while waiting.
I encourage my colleagues, friends, and every American to stay in contact with their congressional and senate leaders about this freeze and how it may affect veterans and others in need of service.
Whitney White is a counselor working in Texas in multiple settings with diverse populations. Some of her areas of passion are anxiety, non-suicidal self-injury, and compassion fatigue. With an integrated approach utilizing client strengths, she supports others in achieving their best self. For more information please visit counselingbywhitney.wordpress.com. The thoughts expressed in Whitney’s blogs do not represent her employers.