Head of VA vows to hire 45,000 nurses in 3 years to address shortage

Veterans Affairs Secretary makes hiring nurses its mission to help vets
Published: Oct. 9, 2022 at 6:21 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 10, 2022 at 5:11 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The head of Veterans Affairs was in Honolulu last week to share how the government is working to better serve those who served.

One of the biggest challenges is to reducing wait times, meaning addressing the current shortage of nurses and medical practitioners.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the department needs to hire 45,000 nurses in the next three years and is increasing pay, giving recruitment, retention and relocation bonuses up front and offering aggressive loan repayment programs.

“We’ve made hiring and retention one of our top priorities, to make sure that we’re both attracting and keeping great medical professionals to serve Hawaiian vets,” McDonough said.

He also acknowledged the need to process new hires faster to compete in today’s labor market.

U.S. Senator to Hawaii Mazie Hirono said fixing the immigration system and bringing in more trained nurses from countries like the Philippines can help alleviate the healthcare worker crisis in Hawaii.

Other priorities include reducing homelessness and suicide rates among veterans.

“Getting them wraparound services, that is to say, the full suite of services, whether that’s health care, substance, mental health care, substance use disorder, or increasingly financial support and legal support to get them out of justice involvement, such that they can address the issue that made them homeless in the first place,” McDonough said.

McDonough called veteran suicide rates “unacceptable” as more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide in 2020 — about 220 fewer than in 2019.

“We’ve now seen the biggest reduction in suicide among veterans death by suicide among veterans since about 2005 which gives me some hope,” he said.

He also noted the challenge of getting quality care to about 30,000 veterans on the neighbor islands, who often have to travel to Oahu for services.

“Increase telemedicine access our effort to increase availability of localized community care networks,” McDonough added.

Veteran Isaac Nahaku’elua lives in Hilo, he says telehealth and the VA app make it easier to get care virtually. But he knows older veterans may have a harder time.

“I can’t help but to wonder that and it’s you know, the frustrations lessen as the age goes down with people that are around technology,” Nahaku’elua said,

The VA is also preparing for a flood of claims from veterans who were exposed to toxins during service over the last 30 years. The PACT Act that was signed into law made them eligible for additional benefits.

Veterans and survivors are urged to apply for toxic exposure-related care and benefits through the VA as soon as possible.

Claims will be processed beginning January 2023, and will be retroactive from August 2022.

For more information, visit va.gov/pact or call 1-800-MY-VA-411.