A pay incentive just for HR professionals at the Veterans Health Administration is expiring Oct. 7, though the department said it is reviewing other authorities to keep recruiting for in-demand positions.

Officials did not say whether the expiring critical skills incentive would be replaced by a special salary rate.

Skills incentives are used governmentwide to offer new hires a “bonus” for working jobs that an agency may have a shortage of. Special salary rates, another tool, can be applied to a broad group of employees at any point to improve pay parity or address other challenges.

For example, in August, pay for IT workers at the department increased an average of 17% thanks to a special pay rate designation enabled by the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act.

For the VA, the PACT Act authorized several recruitment and retention incentives to help hire medical and support staff to meet increased demand from veterans seeking burn pit treatment and information.

Now, as the agency begins a new fiscal year, it’s looking to continue onboarding of human resources specialists after exceeding its fiscal year 2023 hiring goal. Per its own workforce analysis updated last month, HR professionals’ most cited reasons for leaving the job are poor working relationships, job stress, lack of trust or confidence, too much work or a desire to change careers.

Fiscal 2024 began Oct. 1.

“We can’t hire enough of them,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, under secretary of health, said in a recent Military Times article. “We want as many HR specialists in our system as possible, because that will help reduce times to onboard and hire employees, which is really the main challenge that we’re faced with right now.”

“Since implementing the authority in March 2023, VA has processed over 13,000 critical skills incentive payments, including to human resources specialists, personnel security, police officers, and housekeeping aides,” said Terrence Hayes, press secretary for the VA.

Recently, however, the department announced that it will have to claw back $9.7 million worth of incentives given to 174 senior executives at the department last month. An review discovered that the department gave more payments than it intended.

The VA told Federal Times that officials are canceling all CSI payments made to career senior executives at VA headquarters until stronger controls can be put in place. Future awards to members of the SES are also paused during the review.

More than 97% of VA workers who have received skill incentive pay to date are not senior-level career executives, and those incentives were awarded correctly and are not being reexamined, he added.

Military Times reporter Leo Shane III contributed reporting.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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