Bigger bonuses, more childcare assistance for VA employees under new workforce plan

Veterans Affairs workers could see bigger bonuses, extra child care support and more opportunities for promotion under a new workforce improvement initiative announced by Secretary Dennis McDonough on Wednesday.

“You have done your job while balancing the challenges of COVID life and mourning so many vets, colleagues, family members and friends,” McDonough told employees in a department-wide speech unveiling the changes being made. at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, SC

“You have had to cover thousands of colleagues who are sick and unable to work, which means even longer hours and longer nights. And due to unprecedented demand for front-line workers, wages have hit all-time highs in the private sector, but they haven’t budged at VA.

“These are real challenges both for you and for our nation, and we must address them now, before it’s too late.”

Wednesday marked exactly one year since McDonough took over as secretary and about 23 months since the first VA patient to contract coronavirus was identified.

Since then, the department has suffered quarantine, closures, labor shortages and other pandemic complications. McDonough said the pressure on employees has raised concerns about the department’s ability to recruit and retain top talent, especially for in-demand jobs.

For example, the turnover rate for nurses at VA today is the highest in 15 years.

The changes announced this week aim to alleviate some of that stress. Along with plans to lobby Congress for better pay scales for VA workers, the measures include secretary’s executive orders to immediately provide more money and support to employees who may be considering openings in the private sector. .

“Because of salary caps, there is a time when VA nurses can be promoted but can no longer get the raises that were supposed to come with those promotions,” McDonough said. “So they take on more responsibilities for the same pay.

“It’s unsustainable, and it will lead to serious casualties if we don’t act quickly.”

He said he would use new authorities to award bonuses above previous limits to “reward employees who exceeded expectations” during the pandemic. Additionally, the White House approved retention incentives of up to 50% of employees’ base salaries (instead of 25%) to keep skilled workers in the department.

VA leadership will also increase the number of positions eligible for higher grades and general schedule promotions, and establish a new task force to “improve working conditions, promote work-life balance, increase scheduling flexibilities and reduce burnout,” the secretary said.

The department also plans to provide more educational assistance to employees enrolled in degree programs and expand eligibility for its child care subsidy assistance.

Previously, any worker whose household earned less than $89,000 a year could qualify for $500 a month in child care assistance. This income figure will now increase to $149,000.

McDonough did not specify the cost of the new initiatives and promised more details to employees in agency memos in the coming weeks.

“You provide veterinarians with timely access to world-class healthcare, benefits, and the lasting resting place they deserve,” McDonough told employees. “And that’s because you’ve fought the pandemic, bringing VA to the point where we’re now providing more care, more benefits, and more services to more veterans than ever before…

“I promise we will invest in you, take care of you, and fight like hell for you, just like you fight for our nation’s veterans.”

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

Michael A. Bynum