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Opening Statement of Hon. Michael H. Michaud, Chairman, a Representative in Congress from the State of Maine

I would like to thank the members of the Subcommittee, our witnesses and all those in the audience for being here today.

We are here to address the very important issue of recruitment and retention of health care professionals in the Veterans Health Administration. Health care professionals are the Veterans Health Administration’s most important resource in delivering high-quality health care to our nation’s veterans.  The VA must recruit and retain doctors, nurses, mental health providers, physical therapists and many other health care professionals in order to stay true to their motto of “Best Quality of Care Anywhere.”  Quality care can only come from quality care providers — but recruiting and retaining quality health care professionals is becoming increasingly difficult.  Healthcare professionals often choose to work in the private sector because it offers more attractive pay and benefits packages than the VA offers.

Not only does the VA need to maintain its current workforce, but the VA also needs to look to the future to ensure that its staffing needs can be met.  Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans are returning and becoming eligible for VA services in record numbers.  Additionally, a recent study by the Partnership for Public Service found that VHA employees under the age of 40 have very low job satisfaction.  The VA needs to pay particular attention not only to its future workforce needs, but also to the work environment so that they will be able to retain younger workers.

In our first panel this morning we will hear from representatives of healthcare providers.  These organizations work closely with the VA to provide the best service possible to our nation’s veterans.  I want to send a special welcome to Kristi McCaskill representing the National Board of Certified Counselors.  Last year, Congress passed the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 which explicitly recognizes licensed counselors as health care providers within the Veterans Health Administration.  As part of their recruitment plan moving forward, I would encourage the VA to use Licensed Professional Counselors as mental health treatment providers.  Licensed Professional Counselors are qualified and eager to provide services to America’s Veterans.

I look forward to hearing about the VA’s current recruitment and retention system as well as some ideas about how this system can be improved in the future to meet VA’s healthcare needs.