WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined 51 of their Senate and House colleagues in urging President Trump to exempt the entire Department of Veterans Affairs and all veterans seeking federal jobs from his executive order that freezes federal hiring.
In a letter to the president, the lawmakers emphasized the devastating impacts that a hiring freeze would have on veterans and their families by delaying their access to health care and the resolution of their disability claims, and providing fewer jobs for veterans transitioning from military to civilian life.
“We are deeply troubled that your freeze on the hiring of federal civilian employees will have a negative and disproportionate impact on our nation’s veterans. As such, we urge you to take stock of this hiring freeze’s effect on our nation’s veterans and exempt the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as well as any veterans seeking federal employment from your Memorandum Regarding the Hiring Freeze,” the lawmakers wrote. “Our nation’s veterans should not be made to sacrifice any more than they already have while you review federal hiring.”
The hiring freeze will add to chronic workforce shortages that the VA currently suffers from, exacerbating the shortage of doctors, nurses and administrative staff who are needed at VA facilities to reduce wait times across the country and make payments on time. Nationally, there are more than 45,000 vacancies in the VA.
In New Mexico, there are 40 vacancies currently being advertised, including openings in El Paso, which serves New Mexicans.
Right now, there are 450,000 veterans awaiting a benefits decision, including over 2,700 in New Mexico. These veterans are waiting for the VA to fulfill the government’s commitment and provide the benefits they earned while serving the country. Dr. David Shulkin, Trump’s VA Secretary nominee, has said “I need to fill every one of those openings in order to make sure that we’re doing the very best for our veterans.”
“Our nation’s veterans cannot afford an unnecessary wait to receive the benefits they have earned serving our country. We urge you to re-evaluate this hiring freeze and take into account the effect it will have on veterans who will have to wait longer for earned benefits — whether it’s disability, survivor or education benefits, or whether it’s vocational rehabilitation or job training services,” the lawmakers added.
Additionally, the lawmakers emphasized the impact the freeze will have on veterans applying for federal jobs. Veterans make up 31 percent of the federal workforce and receive a hiring preference when applying to these jobs.