DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS NURSE RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION ACT OF 2004 -- (House of Representatives - September 29, 2004)
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Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Filner), my friend and fellow colleague, a member of the committee who has been a staunch supporter of veterans.
Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for the time, and Mr. Speaker, I also rise in support of this bill, H.R. 4231, to provide for nurse recruitment and retention for our Department of Veterans' Affairs.
We have heard that the VA is currently the largest employer of nurses in the United States, and with the growth in the number of veterans using the VA for their health care, the increase in the number of aging veterans and the projected national shortage of registered nurses, we must keep the VA competitive in the recruitment and retention of nurses.
So we have this bill, what we have heard described, establishing a pilot program that would study the use of outside recruitment, advertising and online technology to make the VA more competitive. We also know that the bill provides flexible work schedules to be more family-friendly and to allow nurses to take care of their family needs and personal needs and give them more control over their own schedules.
I thank very much the chairman of the committee for his strong statement on the provision that was in the original bill but is not now, but how we will go about making up for that; in the early drafts of the bill, an important provision clarified the status of nurses who meet the VA's qualification standards but do not have a baccalaureate degree. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing reports that the pass rates for licensing of nurses trained with associate and baccalaureate degrees are virtually identical. So to discriminate against nurses with 2-year degrees makes no sense and, of course, is counterproductive to our needs today.
As first drafted, H.R. 4231 committed to hiring nurses with associate degrees. It is not in the bill now, but as the chairman pointed out, a letter by the acting Under Secretary of Health at the VA, Mr. Perlin, and is now in the record to the Committee on Veterans Affairs' chairman and ranking member, outlined the plans of the VA to enhance the recruitment and hiring of associate-degree nurses. Committee on Veterans' Affairs members will be monitoring their progress.
Of course, the next step we need to take is to fix the promotion requirements for nurses in the VA so nurses with those associate degrees are eligible for promotions based on their competency, not their degree. This is a vital change that must be made in order to retain VA nurses, and I appreciate the gentleman from New Jersey's (Chairman Smith's) strong statement of the need for competency-based promotion and not on the kind of degree.
All of us here today have made clear that health care for our Nation's veterans must be a high priority. This bill is a step forward in those efforts to provide the VA with the tools to recruit qualified nurses to care for our veterans, whether they are from World War II or to the present conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I urge support of H.R. 4231.