VA scandal: RNs leave program as demand for care grows

The Department of Veterans Affairs will need nearly 40,000 registered nurses in the next three years to meet the demands of more veterans seeking care within the system and replace retiring nurses, according to a new federal report.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that 9.1 percent of the VA's existing RNs left in 2014 and the system faces a severe shortage in the next five years because 20 percent of its nurses will be eligible for retirement. The report also noted that 12 percent of all nurses that left the system in 2012 did so during their first year of employment.

The VA says that retirement and career advancement through opportunities elsewhere were the top reasons why nurses left the system. But the shortage and high turnover has led to a critical situation as the VA has trouble meeting the existing demand for services and aims to fix a nationwide scandal involving secret wait lists to cover up the fact that veterans were denied timely care.

Although the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has many system-wide initiatives to recruit and retain its nurse workforce, the GAO report found that three of the four VA medical systems investigated had difficulty fulfilling the initiatives. The troubles were due to lack of sufficient administrative support, competition with private sector medical facilities, a limited number of qualified and available nurses in rural locations and employee dissatisfaction, according to the report. 

The problems, however, are due to the lack of VHA oversight, according to the GAO report. The VHA conducts limited monitoring of compliance with its initiatives and has not evaluated training or overall effectiveness of the initiatives in meeting its nurse recruitment and retention goals.

To improve compliance at the VA and find--and keep--an adequate number of nurses on staff, the GAO recommends a process to help monitor its medical centers' compliance with its key nurse recruitment and retention initiatives, which the VA has agreed to develop. The GAO further recommends the VA evaluate the adequacy of training resources provided to nurse recruiters and conduct a system-wide evaluation of its key nurse recruitment and retention initiatives.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)