Legislation Positively Impacting VA Employees Signed Into Law; New Bill to Address VA Compensation Problems Introduced
Recently, President Obama signed into law the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. The National Federation of Federal Employees lobbied Congress hard for a number of critical provisions that were ultimately included in the final version of the bill.
Perhaps the biggest victory in this bill was a provision that gave part time RNs the same basic rights afforded to full time RNs once they have completed a two-year probationary period. Previously, part time RNs were treated like second class citizens in the VA, even if they converted from full time status. Now, full time RNs that convert to part time will retain their permanent status. The new law also ensures that part time nurses who work overtime and weekend shifts will have access to premium pay rates on the same basis as full time nurses.
Another provision would significantly limit the use of mandatory overtime for RNs. Under the new law, nurses cannot be required to work more than a standard workweek except under emergency circumstances clearly spelled out in the law. The law also explicitly prohibits discrimination or retaliation against nurses who refuse to work overtime that is assigned to them in violation of the law.
Another provision will positively impact Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs). CRNAs will now receive locality pay that could raise their pay above the cap for nurse executives. This will lead to higher pay for CRNAs at the VA.
Finally, the legislation included provisions that would increase educational assistance at the VA. It would restore use of the Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP) for retention of current employees as well as recruitment of new employees, it would increases maximum EDRP payment amounts, and it would allow for higher payments for clinicians working in rural areas and other areas with health professional shortages. The legislation also establishes a pilot program on financial incentives for VA physicians at community hospitals in health professional shortage areas, extends Health Professionals Education Assistance Scholarship Program through the end of 2014, and expands eligibility for educational assistance to all VHA employees appointed under Title 38 (both hybrids and pure Title 38).
While this bill has just been completed and signed into law, another bill that could significantly impact VA workers has just been introduced.
For years, NFFE has been pushing legislation that would effectively put issues relating to professional conduct and competence, compensation, and peer review on the bargaining table. Specifically, it would repeal Sec. 7422 of Title 38. Although we continue to push for that legislation, lawmakers have introduced a shorter bill that would just put issues relating to compensation (excluding basic pay rates) on the bargaining table, and NFFE is backing this bill as well.
This would allow Title 38 VA nurses to grieve issues relating to compensation. In recent years, many of the legitimate grievances Title 38 VA employees have had regarding compensation have been sidestepped by the VA. The agency has been able to assert 7422 which would effectively eliminate the grievance, regardless of the merits of the case, and the employee had no further recourse. This legislation would make it impossible for the VA to avoid grievances regarding compensation.
NFFE is pushing this shorter bill (HR 5543/S 3486) hard on the Hill, and is angling to have this legislation passed into law this year.