WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following the recent security breach at the Dayton VA, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, sent a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki urging the Secretary take steps to address the potential shortage of experienced law enforcement officers within the VA system.
“Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to protect our communities and families every day,” Brown said. “So often when a tragedy occurs, we watch as police officers and other first responders run toward the scene while others flee. The recent security breach at the Dayton VA Medical Center serves as a reminder of the dedication of these individuals and I urge the VA to revisit its policy of downgrading these positions.”
In his letter, Brown pointed to a decision by the VA to downgrade the general schedule (GS) level of 17 positions, including police officers, as a possible cause for the shortage. Currently, more than 1,900 police officers are serving at the GS-6 level with another 800 at the GS-7 level. If this new policy goes into effect, current officers – as well as new hires – will be downgraded to a GS-5 level. This downgrade would affect earned income of police officers, future career promotion, and other hiring benefits.
Brown called attention to reports stating that only three police officers were on duty during the recent security breach at the Dayton VA Medical Center – a campus with more than 1,900 employees and 60 buildings. Since the VA started its processes of downgrading the service level of low wage positions, more than 3,300 police officers and 14,000 VA employees systemwide are targeted for downgrade. According to an article by the American Legion in 2012, 87 percent of VA police officers are veterans and 22 percent are service-connected disabled veterans.
A full text of the letter can be seen below:
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington, DC 20501
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The shooting incident last week at the Dayton Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center could have been much worse if not for the outstanding work of VA police, employees, and local law enforcement. They should be commended for their service to our veterans and our community.
As we saw this week, VA police officers are responsible for the safety of veterans, employees, families, visitors, and the greater community. Yet, employees at the Dayton VA Medical Center report that there is a chronic shortage of police officers and that the facility has significant challenges retaining experienced law enforcement personnel. Employees report that there were only three police officers on duty during the shooting to cover 60 buildings.
VA police have chosen a career in public service and put their lives on the line, yet they are now facing tough career decisions as a result of significant decreases in pay, retirement, future earning, and promotion potential. Retention problems will only get worse if police officers are downgraded and the risks for veterans and federal employees will increase.
That is why I am concerned with VA’s massive downgrade of all “low wage” positions that threatens the very health care, benefits, and services on which veterans rely. The downgrades target 17 different positions, including police officers. The VA’s downgrade plan would affect more than 3,300 police officers nationwide. These employees are often veterans. More than 80% of police officers and more than half of all the 14,000 employees facing downgrades are veterans.
Despite VA’s repeated contentions that employees will not lose pay, past downgrades have already affected hundreds of police officers across the nation who have already exhausted their two years of saved pay protection and are living with smaller paychecks. These cuts make recruiting and retaining quality employees difficult and threaten the safety and quality of care.
We rely on these dedicated public servants. I ask that you immediately review the downgrade policy and prevent any adverse impact that may occur. I look forward to continuing our work together.