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Union calls for Veteran Affairs to fill thousands of job vacancies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The union representing employees of the nation’s Department of Veterans Affairs complex is calling for tens of thousands of vacant positions to be filled to improve veterans’ care and worker morale.

“If they are trying to fill those positions, there are thousands of Americans looking for jobs right now,” said Steven Rael, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees and a CT radiology technologist.

The AFGE says that more than 49,000 positions are unfilled, citing Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin’s May 3 testimony to a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rael said that although the hiring situation at Albuquerque’s VA hospital is “better than others,” the vacancies are affecting the level of care of veterans and employee workloads.

“Morale at the VA here in Albuquerque is very low,” but the union has a good relationship with local management, which is not represented by the AFGE, he said.

Sonja Brown, acting associate director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System, said Albuquerque’s Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center has 255 vacancies, with 50 jobs posted.

“These vacancies range from housekeepers to clerical support to clinicians to include nurses and physicians,” Brown wrote in an email.

A VA spokesman disputed the number of vacancies claimed by the AFGE.

As of June 30, the VA had a little more than 34,000 vacancies, he said.

“To keep the vacancies in proper perspective, you should keep in mind that VA is the second-largest federal department, with more than 377,000 employees and the Veterans Health Administration has by far the largest employee population within VA,” he wrote in an email.

“As such, our current Veterans Health Administration vacancy rate is only about 9 percent, far better than private sector hospitals, which trend near 20 percent.”

The AFGE is demanding increased funding for the VA in addition to the filled positions.