As the number of coronavirus cases within the Veterans Affairs medical system continues to climb, department officials are reaching out to retired health care workers for help.

On social media in recent days, VA leaders have reached out to retired VA clinicians and other federal healthcare providers with the same repeated plea: “WE NEED YOU! Help us in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider #VA re-employment.”

VA officials are promising expedited hiring practices and dual compensation waivers for potential recruits, so that they don’t have to give up federal retirement benefits in order to start assisting at department medical centers.

As of Monday, VA announced that at least 204 patients at 50 sites across the country have tested positive for the coronavirus, the spread of which has prompted massive social upheaval and community closures in America over the last few weeks. That’s up from 130 cases on Friday.

So far two VA patients have died, one in Vermont and one in Oregon. Worldwide, the death toll from the illness topped 15,000 over the weekend.

Last week, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said his department is preparing to deploy 3,000 medical staff and additional mobile medical units to bolster the national health response to the coronavirus.

But the department — which has more than 400,000 employees — already has about 44,000 medical vacancies spread throughout the Veterans Health Administration. VA leaders have said that normal attrition and a competitive market for medical professionals have made filling many of those positions difficult.

Now, officials are moving to help temporarily fill those openings and prepare for a possible surge in need by bringing back retired physicians. VHA recruiters said the job openings could include both direct patient care and telehealth options, as well as call center and other administrative support.

Lawmakers are considering other expidited hiring authorities for the department as part of future emergency legislation related to the illness. Several states have also made similar requests of retired professionals, in anticipation of dramatic increases in medical support needs in coming weeks.

More information on potential job opportunities is available on the VA web site.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump held a conference call with leaders from major veterans organizations to brief them on the latest developments in the fight against the virus, and to promise that veterans’ other health care needs would not be ignored during the crisis.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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