Veterans Affairs officials in US have begun mandatory counseling for employees who have yet to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Firings could be just a few weeks away.
On Wednesday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the department has started administrative actions against staffers who failed to meet deadlines for getting the vaccine, despite months of warning about adverse consequences.
McDonough did not provide details on how many of VA’s roughly 420,000 employees remain unvaccinated. About 70 percent have finished mandatory paperwork regarding their status, and the remaining 30 percent will be contacted by supervisors in coming days to complete their forms.
“The process starts with counseling, and if we get to it, it ends with separation,” he told reporters. “But there are a lot of steps along the way.
“We have a responsibility to protect the health of the veterans who are coming to us for their care. And I believe that in certain circumstances, unvaccinated employees pose a serious risk to the health of our veterans”. Therefore, Department officials promised to release staff vaccination figures and disciplinary actions in coming weeks. McDonough said he is not concerned about the possible need for large-scale dismissals of employees who fail to get the vaccine, but said leadership has been looking into firing authorities and ways to cover any staffing shortfalls that result from such moves.
The secretary also said VA leaders are reviewing the rules regarding religious and medical exemptions for the vaccine mandate, but emphasized that those would be limited.
“We won’t question the legitimacy of any employee’s religious exemption,” he said. “But we couldn’t allow a non-vaccinated employee to work in [certain] settings.”
That would include not just medical positions but also other jobs involving face-to-face interactions with veterans. (continue reading)