USA TODAY discovered the 41,500 vacancies as of late June in data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The full- and part-time positions include openings for 5,191 physicians, nearly 12,000 nurses and 1,262 psychologists, according to the data.
Four locations were short at least 100 doctors: Orlando, Portland, Ore., Baltimore and Salt Lake City.
Each of those locations also had at least 100 vacant nursing positions. Portland needed nearly 300 part-time and full-time nurses. Janet Murphy, deputy undersecretary for health operations and management, confirmed the 41,500 vacancies, saying the VA is working hard to recruit and hire more medical professionals.
Murphy said the VA was competing in a tough market to attract medical professionals, despite a widely publicized effort to recruit doctors from medical schools. One reason she cited was President Obama’s expanded health insurance program that has made medical professionals more in demand.
Another factor is an annual 9 percent attrition rate. In addition, pay for many positions is lower than in the private sector. Others said the VA’s bureaucratic hiring procedures — and vacancies within its human resources department — made the process too cumbersome and slow.
The VA’s vacancy problem has gotten significantly worse over the past year. The Arizona Republic reported the VA had 31,000 unfilled medical job openings in July 2014. Since then, Congress passed legislation increasing medical staffing by 10,000.
The failure to fully staff hospitals is one reason why the Department of Veterans Affairs paid for 1.5 million veterans to see doctors outside the agency in the past year, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson testified late last month. Those private visits have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7.7 billion, the VA said.
The added expenses have left the VA with a $2.6 billion shortfall this year, prompting VA Secretary Bob McDonald to plead with lawmakers to quickly pass a bill that would give him flexibility to shift money within the VA budget to cover the gap.
Active-duty and retired service members are automatically registered in DEERS, but they must take action to register their family members and ensure they’re correctly entered into the database.
You can verify your DEERS information by contacting your regional TRICARE managed care support contractor, your local TRICARE service center or the nearest uniformed services personnel office (ID card facility).
Sponsors or registered family members may make address changes, but only the sponsor can add or delete a family member from DEERS, and proper documents are required such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree and/or birth certificate.
To update your DEERS information, visit your local uniformed services personnel office or contact the Defense Manpower Data Center Support Office at 1-800-538-9552. Find the nearest uniformed services personnel office at www.dmdc.osd.mil/rsl/. Update DEERS online at www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/bwe/indexAction.do.
Address changes can be mailed to the Defense Manpower Data Center Support Office, ATTN: COA, 400 Gigling Road, Seaside, CA 93955-6771. Go online to Tricare to update your information:http://www.tricare.mil/DEERS.
Each family member’s eligibility record must be updated separately when changes occur. Any changes that impact you or your family (e.g., marriage, birth, divorce, death) need to be reported to DEERS so that eligibility can start or stop under DoD and Service guidance.
If you are active duty and re-enlist, separate, retire, or move, make sure your information gets updated in DEERS as soon as possible. If you do not, you and your family might experience a break in eligibility, which means a break in health care coverage.
As soon as you re-enlist, take your reenlistment paper to your personnel support center or ID card facility so your information can be updated before your previous enlistment expires rather than waiting for the paperwork to go through distribution. Once you retire, you need to make sure DEERS reflects your change from active duty to retiree status.
Note: If you or your family were previously TRICARE Prime under your active duty status, you need to re-enroll in TRICARE Prime under your retiree status. Contact the regional managed care support contractor (MCSC) in your retirement location to find out if TRICARE Prime is offered in your retirement area zip code.
It is important to update your and your family’s home addresses because TRICARE Program information will be sent to that address. Retail network pharmacies check TRICARE eligibility through DEERS. Your prescriptions will be filled only if you are in the system.
If you have a child that is over age 21 and a full-time student, you need to get his or her student status entered into DEERS so that TRICARE eligibility is not interrupted and access to health care is not lost.
If you or a family member is Medicare-eligible, entitled to Part A and enrolled in Part B, DEERS must be updated to reflect MEDICARE Part A and B status to retain TRICARE coverage. When you turn 65, the medical section of your military ID card may also need to be updated.
Agent Orange exposure list
The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships associated with military service in Vietnam and possible exposure to Agent Orange based on military records.
This evolving list helps veterans who served aboard ships, including “Blue Water Veterans,” find out if they may qualify for presumption of herbicide exposure. VA recently added 22 additional U.S. Navy ships to the presumption of Agent Orange list.
For more information including a link to the Alphabetized Agent Orange Ship List, visit the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Ships in Vietnam webpage.
Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire.