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VA officials list jobs exempted from federal hiring freeze

January 27, 2017 (Photo Credit: Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP)
Department of Veterans Affairs officials on Friday released a breakdown of what positions will be exempt from the recently enacted government-wide hiring freeze, detailing a host of medical and psychological specialties.

The freeze, announced by President Trump on Monday, prevents any new civilian government hires who did not receive a job offer before Jan. 22. Military members are excluded, as are positions “necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.”

On Tuesday, acting VA Secretary Robert Snyder released a statement saying his department would “exempt anyone it deems necessary for public safety, including frontline caregivers,” in keeping with the order.

But the fact sheet released by VA on Friday goes further, detailing exemptions in a host of specialties and at 24 to-be-opened department sites “to ensure the minimum staffing required to become or remain operational.”

Those sites include the new VA hospital in Denver, Colorado, the recently completed new medical center in New Orleans, a new site in New York City and four sites in California.

Support positions to finish construction processes will also be exempt, but on a case-by-case basis to be approved by the VA secretary.

Not included in the list are specialists who handle benefits claims, an issue that has been problematic for the department in recent years.

The number of first-time claims that took more than four months to complete ballooned in 2013 to more than 600,000 before staffing plus-ups, mandatory overtime and new processing systems helped bring it down to around 90,000 cases today.  

On the medical front, exempted positions include individuals who “provide direct patient care, without which the safety and welfare of veterans would be at stake.”

That includes general medical staff, pharmacists, social workers, nurses, dietitians, prosthetic specialists and psychologists, among others.

It also includes workers on the Veterans Crisis Line, as well as security and maintenance personnel for VA clinics.

And Snyder also opted to exempt some National Cemetery Administration positions “directly involved with the burial of veterans and eligible family members” in keeping with the public health and safety clauses of the presidential order.

Earlier in the week, a group of 55 Senate Democrats -- including every party member in the Senate -- sent a note to Trump asking him to exempt all of VA from the hiring freeze, noting the potential impact on both veterans seeking services and veterans seeking employment.

Veterans make up nearly one third of the federal workforce.


   
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.
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