DENVER – The new Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora will be exempt from the federal hiring freeze ordered by the new administration, allaying fears that the controversial hospital would not be staffed once it finally opens.
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Friday it would exempt “certain positions,” most of which are related to direct patient care, from the hiring freeze ordered by the Trump administration “because they are necessary to meet [VA] public safety responsibilities.”
“Given the critical role that VA plays in training the Nation’s health care providers, the above exemptions should be interpreted in a way that does not disrupt ongoing health profession training programs and residencies within VA,” a memo from VA Acting Secretary Robert D. Snyder issued Friday said.
The president’s memo on the hiring freeze said any projects not staffed on Jan. 22 would not be able to hire more employees, but left open the possibility for agencies to exempt from the freeze “any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.”
The VA’s exemptions will have to be reviewed and approved by the Office of Personnel Management and Office of Management and Budget.
There had been worried that the overdue and over-budget project in Aurora could lose hundreds of positions and have its opening further delayed. It is still under construction and isn’t expected to open entirely until at least next year.
Republicans in Washington asked Trump on Thursday to exempt “direct patient care providers” the VA from the freeze, to which the VA and administration appears to have listened.
Aurora’s hospital was 80 percent complete as of last year, but the project, initially estimated to cost $604 million, is now expected to cost at least $1.7 billion. It has been a thorn in the side of VA administrators and other federal officials because of mismanagement.
The Army Corps of Engineers eventually took over the project.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs intends to exempt anyone it deems necessary for public health and safety, including frontline caregivers,” Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Snyder said in a statement announcing the exemptions. “The President and VA remain committed to seeing that our Veterans receive the quality care and benefits they’ve earned. This is the right thing to do for our Veterans.”