gettyimages 698494306 How many doctors work at the VA?  No one knows, not even the VA

Surgeons and nurses operate on a patient at the surgery unit of Lyon’s Croix-Rousse hospital on April 22, 2017. (JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Kaupanger

The Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t know how many doctors it has on payroll?

Do an internet search for Veterans Affairs staffing and you won’t get much good news. There are headlines about unions being alarmed at the number of open positions left at VA.  VA hospitals are struggling with staffing shortages.  VA employees’ voice concerns over lack of staffing… none of it is good.  But a GAO report issued last week paints an even worse picture on VA staffing issues.

Last year, while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was looking into the VA’s top five physician mission-critical occupations, a larger problem was discovered – the VA is unable to accurately count the total number of physicians who provide care in its VA Medical Centers (VAMC). For the mission critical positions; primary care, mental health, gastroenterology, orthopedic surgery and emergency medicine, they have the number, which is right around 11,000.  An additional 2,800 doctors provide services on a fee-basis, but after that, things get murky.

In looking up this information, GAO checked out six VAMC’s and discovered that five of the six use contract physicians or physician trainees to help meet staffing needs. But the VA just doesn’t have information on which VAMCS use these arrangements nationwide.  An even larger problem, the agency doesn’t have a good evaluation process of its recruitment and retention strategies.

The GAO issued a few recommendations – and this sort of blows my mind that these had to even be stated. First the Undersecretary for Health should come up with a way to accurately count all physicians who are providing care at each medical center.  Then develop guidance for the VAMCs on the appropriate staffing levels for all mission critical occupations.  Another suggestion is that the VA come up with a system-wide way to share information specifically on physician trainees, to help fill vacancies VA wide.

The VA agreed with all the recommendations except for the one about correctly counting all physicians. GAO maintains that this is essential for effective workforce planning.  VA officials state that its workforce assessment tools are sufficient.

Except that the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t know how many doctors it has on payroll.

Connect: @JonathanVets1 |

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