Tester Seeks Answers from VA on Use of Department Personnel at U.S. Border at Workforce Hearing

VA official assured Senator no Department employees under consideration to go to southern border; Chairman also announced bipartisan legislation to bolster VA workforce

Chairman Jon Tester led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing yesterday on ways the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can better recruit and retain key VA personnel, including health care providers, amid the tightening labor market.

At the top of his questioning, Tester pressed Gina Grosso, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration/Operations, Security and Preparedness, on recent claims of sending VA employees to the border in response to the Biden Administration’s decision to let Title 42 expire in May.

“I’d like you give you the opportunity to clear up some misunderstandings about the use of VA employees at the border,” Tester said to Grosso. “Have you or any VA representatives had conversations or plan to have conversations with the Department of Homeland Security to deploy VA personnel at the border to address issues resulting from the repeal of Title 42?”

“No, we have not been in any direct discussions with [the Department of Homeland Security] on sending our employees to the border,” replied Grosso.

At the hearing, Tester announced his intent to introduce bipartisan legislation this week, the VA Workforce Improvement, Support, and Expansion (WISE) Act, to provide increased pay and benefits for VA’s workforce, expand opportunities in rural VA facilities, support training for current and future VA clinicians and provide additional oversight of VA Human Resource operations and use of hiring authorities. These provisions will help address chronic VA workforce shortages across the country, particularly in states like Montana, and better prepare VA to respond to the anticipated increase in claims following passage of the Honoring out Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT) Act.

The Senator also questioned Network Director of VISN 19 Ralph Gigliotti, who oversees Montana VA’s health care system, on hiring wait times: “To hire a nurse, how long does it take in VISN 19 on average?”

“Right now, we’re at about 88 days across the VISN,” replied Gigliotti. “The problem with that is for us, the competition in the community is less than that. So we’re very dependent on that nurse wanting to come work for VA because of the mission. We’ve done everything we can and we continue to do, to make sure the pay is equitable and that the work environment is equitable. But that speed of hire is an issue for us.”

A staunch advocate of securing the border and instituting a bipartisan fix to our broken immigration system, Tester introduced bipartisan legislation last month that would postpone lifting Title 42 until the federal emergency declarations are lifted and require the DHS to submit a plan to Congress. He also sent a letter urging DHS to present Congress with a comprehensive plan to address the strain on our immigration system, including maintaining northern border staffing and security, before Title 42 expires this month.

Tester’s Q&A is available HERE.