Home » VA Nurses Protest Staffing Cuts at Washington Rally

VA Nurses Protest Staffing Cuts at Washington Rally

by Richard A Reagan

Nearly 70 nurses from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) protested at the VA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday against anticipated staffing cuts. 

Representing 23 VA medical facilities nationwide, these nurses warned that the proposed reduction of 10,000 jobs across the Veterans Health Administration poses a serious threat to the quality of care provided to veterans.

The staffing reductions, described by VA officials as a consequence of natural attrition and retirements rather than outright layoffs, have sparked fears among the medical staff. 

According to National Nurses United, the union representing these nurses, there are currently 66,000 vacancies in the VA system, including over 13,000 unfilled nursing positions. Such significant shortages, they argue, directly undermine the quality of care veterans receive.

Irma Westmoreland, a nurse at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, and vice president of National Nurses United, criticized the VA’s staffing strategy. 

“While the VA denies there is a hiring freeze, nurses live with it every day and every shift, doing more with less, and patient services are suffering,” she stated at the rally.

The protesters highlighted specific impacts of the staffing cuts at various facilities. 

For instance, Sharda Fornnarino, a nurse from the VA medical center in Aurora, Colorado, detailed reductions in critical care capacities—such as the decrease of beds in the spinal cord injury and intensive care units—which have led to delayed treatments and diverted patients.

These reductions have come despite VA officials claiming in March that the 2% staff trim was intended to focus on supervisory and support roles rather than front-line medical staff. However, the reality, as voiced by the nurses at the rally, suggests that essential medical staff are indeed being affected.

Further exacerbating the situation, a VA Office of Inspector Administrator report from last year indicated severe staffing shortages across various occupations within the department, particularly among nurses, with 92% of facilities reporting critical shortfalls.

In response to the protest and the concerns raised, VA spokesman Terrence Hayes emphasized that there is no nationwide hiring freeze currently in effect. 

“Over the past three years, the VA has actively recruited nurses, increasing our workforce significantly,” Hayes explained. He highlighted the VA’s commitment to maintaining high standards of care, with a focus on retaining skilled nurses and managing turnover rates effectively.

The rallying nurses made it clear that their advocacy is driven by a profound dedication to their patients and to the VA itself. 

“We are here because we care deeply about the veterans and the VA,” Westmoreland said. “We are committed to ensuring that it remains the premier institution for veteran care.”

As discussions progress and VA officials prepare to meet with union representatives, the future of VA healthcare remains a pivotal issue, with the well-being of millions of veterans at stake. 

The nurses’ protest serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing challenges and the critical need for thoughtful solutions to ensure that veterans continue to receive the best possible care.

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