Employees of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa took to the streets Tuesday to protest the large number of job vacancies in the VA system.
At last count, the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs had more than 33,000 unfilled positions. More than a dozen workers picketed Bruce B. Downs Boulevard on Tuesday, outside of the Haley hospital. They called for the job vacancies to be filled and more funding for local hospitals.
Wanda White works at Haley and is the president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees. She said vacancies can have a negative impact on working conditions at the hospital.
"It just makes the staff work harder and increases burn-out , because we are trying our best to give our veterans the quality of care they deserve," she said.
Lloyd Hammond, a mechanic at Hayley VA, said vacancies can put more strain on an already underfunded hospital system.
"People are tired," he said. "There's overtime because it has to get done, this is patient care - the toilets have to flush, the lights have to come on."
Protestors also complained about Veterans Choice, a program which pays private healthcare facilities to take care of veterans who have waited more than 30 days for an appointment. The program has been extended under President Donald Trump.
Rather than push veterans toward private care, White said the VA should be funded at a level that will allow them to be more efficient.
Karen Collins, public affairs officer at Hayley VA, said the vacancy rate locally is only 6 percent, compared to the national VA average of 9 percent. She also pointed out that the latest vacancy numbers of roughly 33,000 is lower than the 45,000 reported last year.
"Healthcare is a competitive industry and we are active recruiting to fill these positions," Collins said.