VA will deploy reemployed annuitants for coronavirus response

The Office of Personnel Management gave the Department of Veterans Affairs an authority needed to quickly rehire former medical professionals for VA's coronavir...

This story was updated on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 9:15 a.m. to reflect additional information from the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs can soon begin rehiring retired medical professionals to boost staffing levels in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic.

The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday quickly granted VA the authority to bring back former employees of the department as full time reemployed annuitants.

In addition, the authority allows VA’s chief human capital officer or another agency executive to waive the salary offset that’s usually necessary to reemploy a retired federal employee temporarily.

“This delegation of authority will assist VA in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brenda Roberts, OPM’s acting associate director of employee services, said Thursday in a letter to VA’s chief human capital officer. “VA must respond to patient needs at numerous medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics, cemeteries, community living centers, spinal cord injury units, Veterans Benefits Administration offices, headquarters and miscellaneous VA program offices nationwide.”

Generally speaking, reeemployed annuitants receive their Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) annuities and, at the same, a paycheck as a federal employee, which is often offset by the amount of the annuity.

Agencies, however, can waive this salary offset requirement on their own for part-time reemployed annuitants. They need OPM’s permission to grant salary offsets for full time reemployed annuitants.

OPM has previously granted dual compensation waivers if an agency had demonstrated it had severe recruiting challenges, a need for emergency hiring, a need to retain a specific individual or some other unusual circumstances.

The waiver extends for more than a year, until March 31, 2021, according to OPM.

VA said Tuesday it planned to begin hiring activities this week. The department is inviting retired physicians, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, respiratory therapists and other medical professionals to register for reemployment here.

“This action helps give the department surge capacity as needed,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Tuesday in a statement. “On behalf of all the veterans we serve, I thank OPM for its quick action and invite our retired health care workers to consider coming back to VA during this crucial time.”

VA has 170 medical centers and more than 1,000 outpatient care centers across the United States. The department has been grappling with staffing shortages, especially among its medical professionals, for several years.

According to the most recently publicly available data, VHA had 40,985 vacancies within its medical facilities at the end of the first quarter in 2020.

These vacancies have always worried some members of Congress but are an even bigger concern today. During a global pandemic like the coronavirus, the Veterans Health Administration serves the nation’s backup hospital system.

With VA’s new dual compensation waiver, the department hire annuitants using any appropriate and existing authority, OPM said. The department must use to post positions for VA reemployed annuitants.

“Agencies may adjust the work schedule of annuitants without advanced notice or procedures,” OPM said. “Annuitants with a salary off-set waiver may not make retirement contributions or participate in the Thrift Savings Plan. This delegation enables you to pay annuitants under a temporary time-limited or term appointment on a full-time work schedule up to 40 hours per week.”

Congress back in 2014 gave agency heads the authority to grant dual compensation waivers on their own to reemployed annuitants who work about 20 hours a week. The authority was due to expire at the end of 2019, but Congress extended it again until 2024.

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