The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to staff up to care for veterans who deferred care during the pandemic or were not able to get appointments over the past year, VA Secretary Denis McDonough told lawmakers this week.

McDonough said the department needs to hire 19,000 new staff members, including 17,000 health care workers.

“This is not hypothetical,” McDonough said, according to Military.com. “We are in the midst of a ‘bow wave’ of care; we are seeing a demand for that care.”

McDonough said a record number of veterans have been seeing non-VA providers. Under the Mission Act, VA reimburses providers for those visits.

“The community care budget is growing,” McDonough said. “As a general matter, upward of 30%, 31% of our costs are care in the community, although it got as high as 39% at the height of the pandemic.”

VA has also asked for additional funding for its suicide prevention and homelessness prevention programs.

Department of Veterans Affairs photo by Doug Wagner