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Dems to Trump: Exclude VA from hiring freeze

Dems to Trump: Exclude VA from hiring freeze
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Fifty-five House and Senate Democrats are calling on President Trump to exempt the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from his freeze on federal hiring, as well as protecting veterans seeking federal jobs.

“While there can be no debate that the federal government, including VA, should be more efficient in its delivery of services to all Americans, a hiring freeze at VA will delay veterans’ access to health care and resolution of their disability claims, which for many of our nation’s heroes provides a sole source of income to them and their families,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Trump on Wednesday. “Our nation’s veterans should not be made to sacrifice any more than they already have while you review federal hiring.”

The letter was organized by Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMellman: The triumph of partisanship VA under pressure to deliver Trump reforms Feehery: With 2020 looming, Republicans must learn lessons from midterms MORE (Mont.) and Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.), the ranking members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees. It was co-signed by every Democrat in the Senate and six Democrats in the House.

Trump signed an executive order Monday that freezes all federal government hiring except for the in military. There are also exceptions for public safety and public health jobs.

In line with the order, acting VA head Robert Snyder said the department would continue to hire frontline caregivers and other people necessary for public safety.

But the Democrats say those exceptions are not enough. For example, under the freeze, the VA won’t be able to hire administrative support teams to help with appointment scheduling or staff to process appeals for disability compensation, according to the letter. More than 450,000 appeals are pending.

“Our nation’s veterans cannot afford an unnecessary wait to receive the benefits they have earned serving our country,” they wrote. “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.”

In 2014, the VA was rocked by a wait-time scandal that prompted the eventual resignation of Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiSenate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems Trump VA pick boosts hopes for reform Trump VA pick faces challenge to convince senators he’s ready for job MORE. Veterans care has been in the spotlight since then. 

Veterans, who make up 31 percent of the federal workforce, will be further hurt by not being able to seek federal jobs, the Democrats warned Wednesday said.

“The negative impacts of this freeze will be felt across the country and disproportionately affect those men and women who have honorably served in our military,” they wrote.

Trump’s own nominee for VA secretary, David Shulkin, has talked in the past about the need to hire more staff for the VA's health administration. Shulkin has served as under secretary of health since 2015.

"We have 45,000 job openings. That's too many," Shulkin said in an interview with NPR this past fall. "I need to fill every one of those openings in order to make sure that we're doing the very best for our veterans."