Human resources employees at the Veterans Health Administration, the largest integrated health system in the U.S., will see a 15% salary increase in their paychecks starting this week as the agency seeks to boost recruitment and retain staff after recent hiring surges. Other agency employees may also be in line for a pay hike down the line.
Despite mistakes that caused almost $10 million in incentive pay for senior staff to be rescinded in 2023, VHA approved the special salary rate for “Title V” HR specialists and assistants in December, Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement to Federal Times. The changes go into effect starting this Friday.
“VHA intends to submit special salary rate requests for additional Title V occupations,” Hayes said. “Broader implementation will be considered through the fiscal year.”
The HR salary adjustment comes a few months after a previous incentive expired in October. The pay bump maxes out at level four on the executive schedule pay system, which was capped at $183,500 in 2023 and increases to $191,900 for 2024, according to January salary tables published by the Office of Personnel Management.
Even before the pandemic, VA struggled with vacancies in critical occupations, including HR. Some direct-hire authorities aimed at reducing bureaucratic barriers lapsed at the end of last year. When the Honoring our PACT Act passed in 2022, new authorities to fund recruitment or retention drives were built in. Since then, VA has been running a hiring sprint to meet demand for hundreds of thousands of veterans who became eligible for care and treatment of toxic substance exposure.
In 2022, the latest year for which OPM has data available, there were roughly 7,000 HR specialists and assistants employed by VHA. The new rate applies to those in General Schedule grades four to 15.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it hired more than 61,000 external employees in fiscal 2023, breaking its previous record by 24%. For VHA specifically, the workforce has grown 1.4% so far in fiscal 2024, which began Oct. 1.
For HR employees department-wide, there’s a 71% new hire retention rate after two years.
The department is continuing to look for ways to reduce how long it takes to get employees onboarded and keep turnover at bay to make these gains last, it said in its 2024 budget request.
In lieu of a full budget, the PACT Act’s authorities have given the agency a source of funding to create pay incentives. But delay or termination of that ability is a risk to its human capital management, according to the agency’s December workforce dashboard report.
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.