Veterans’ front-line employees report high levels of stress and limited help in dealing with their mental health, according to a new study by the agency’s chief inspector, which contributes to VA’s record high turnover.

While the VA has taken several steps since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to address employee welfare, the workforce remains largely unaware of these efforts. The management of the regions and the establishments mostly report to IG that they know about the steps of the department to deal with the mental health needs of employees, but this is largely not enough for the clinical staff. Only 40% of health care professionals were aware of efforts to provide emotional support resources.

Similarly, middle management does not seem to be aware of the resources provided to them. Only 12% of the “service line management” said they were aware of the “rapid response advice” the VA offered during the pandemic to help supervisors manage virtual environments and meet staff support needs. .

Only 38% of clinical staff said management responded to their concerns during the pandemic. A slight majority of these workers said the VA did not provide adequate emotional support. IG received responses from more than 8,000 employees for its survey.

From its initial response plan to COVID-19, the VA acknowledged that it would have to take into account the “recovery” of employees and set out to provide additional mental health services to staff. The department’s National Center for Organizational Development is leading the effort, although several services – such as the priest’s office and the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Service – have also been involved. The VA has installed staff support teams at facilities, requested employee reflection videos, launched self-service webinars, and created a “wall of honor” for employees who died of COVID-19. Those who committed to the VA’s proposals usually found it useful, IG found.

“Greater awareness and encouragement could lead to greater use of resources, a better sense of support for employees in distress, and improved organizational resilience,” the auditors said.

The VA conducted its own survey in December, with front-line staff “showing reduced capacity to deal with stress and work environment requirements”. About one in five workers said they were experiencing more burns than usual, and one in four said they were experiencing high or extreme levels of stress from the pandemic. Excessively stressed employees are often involved in “interpersonal challenges and conflicts,” the VA said.

In November, the VA launched its Working Group on Reducing Employee Burnout and Optimizing Organizational Prosperity (REBOOT) to help improve employee welfare and reduce turnover. In response to IG’s findings, the VA said the working group was already working to address the issues identified in the report and was focused on “supporting individual resilience of employees”.

“In the second half of the 21st financial year, the VHA acknowledged the need for a more strategic approach to employee support, addressing not only staff burnout factors but also organizational design factors. which are also a major contributor to combustion, ”said VA.

In a speech in February, VA Secretary Dennis McDonagh admitted that the VA was losing staff due to burnout and announced 10 steps to better pay the workforce. These include increasing retention bonuses and raising the salaries of some employees. The VA is currently experiencing its worst turnover rate in 15 years and expects to hire 15,000 nurses a year for the next five years.

“You had to cover thousands of colleagues who were sick and unable to work, which means even longer hours and later nights,” the secretary said.

VA workers have complained of severe and sometimes dangerous working conditions since the beginning of the pandemic, although most acknowledge that things have improved greatly since those first months. However, many facilities were understaffed, especially after the new waves of the pandemic forced thousands of employees to miss work at any one time. The VA said its working group is currently seeking and evaluating recommendations and hopes to implement the changes by December.

“The VHA knows that burnout is an urgent organizational problem,” the department said, “and is committed to addressing the stressors of the system that contribute to burnout and promoting initiatives that promote joy and well-being in the workplace.” .

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