Veterans Affairs officials are planning a daylong “onboarding surge” event next month to finalize the hiring of thousands of new employees and find ways to speed up the process for future recruits.

The event, scheduled for Nov. 14, will bring together thousands of human resources specialists with medical center leaders to “push packages through” for individuals who have already been hired to fill key staff roles but have not yet completed requirements to start working, according to Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA Under Secretary for Health.

“We are in a situation where we need to hire over 50,000 employees every year to keep up with trends on attrition and the healthcare demands into the future of veterans,” he told reporters during a briefing this week.

“So this will be not only a chance to have an improvement in the number of folks on board, which is an urgent priority, but to also set the groundwork for more work that we will need to do to improve the hiring process.”

In the past, VA officials and would-be employees have bemoaned the federal hiring process for the lengthy time needed for credential checks, introductory paperwork and other pre-work requirements. Individuals can wait 90 days or more after being hired before they can actually begin working.

Some of those issues were temporarily resolved during the pandemic, when VA was granted special emergency hiring authorities that allowed them to bring on certain new hires before all of the onboarding work was complete.

But Elnahal said those authorities have now expired. “We are now again working with a bulk of the process that we were able to skip before,” Elnahal added.

The November event — which will be conducted in-person at select medical center facilities and online at others — will involve officials combing through new employee files to get them completed and determine how to improve the process for future hires.

Elnahal hopes that getting the hiring specialists talking to health facility leadership in a focused session will help each side understand the needs and challenges they face when bringing on new staff, improving outcomes for both.

“And in addition to providing something very tangible to our facilities, this is a national signal that we take this priority very seriously,” he said. “We want to communicate to as many people as possible, especially to veterans, that we are a very attractive place to work for clinicians and we intend to bring as many of them as possible into our system.”

The Veterans Health Administration employs about 400,000 people, and can have around 30,000 individuals in various stages of the hiring process at any time because of staff turnover and medical care expansion efforts.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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