President Donald Trump made the care of veterans a cornerstone of his campaign, promising to end long wait times for vets to receive medical treatment by reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans groups and Democratic lawmakers, however, say one of Trump's first moves as president — freezing hiring in the federal government — does the exact opposite.
"This freeze raises serious concerns about the president's commitment to veterans and improving the VA," Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement. "Patients, doctors and caregivers across the VA are now worried about the impact of the hiring freeze at this most critical time in the agency's history."
Democratic lawmakers also took note of the potential impact of the hiring freeze.
"[The] VA hiring freeze means longer waits and fewer jobs for vets," Sen. Richard Blumenthal wrote on Twitter. "Instead of pulling resources from veterans, we should be making them [a] priority."
According to the Washington Post, there are more than 4,300 job openings at the VA — more than half of which are for physicians or nurses who provide care directly to veterans. Veterans' groups say the hiring freeze will ensure those slots remain open and that veterans will continue to face long waits for treatment.
"It would be the ultimate insult to our men and women who serve to deny them the additional doctors, nurses, therapists and administrators that are sorely needed at the VA," Peter Kauffman, a senior adviser to VoteVets — which aims to get veterans elected to Congress — said in a statement.
"At a moment when the VA should be prioritizing responsiveness and recruiting and hiring the best-trained physicians, nurses and mental health counselors in the country, the president has tied the acting secretary's hands," Rieckhoff said.
In the fall of 2016, Shulkin — currently the under secretary for health at the VA — said there were "too many" job openings in the VA's health care department and that more caregivers were needed.
"We have 45,000 job openings," Shulkin told NPR. "That's too many. I need to fill every one of those openings in order to make sure that we're doing the very best for our veterans."
Democratic lawmakers are already fighting back.
Rep. Seth Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran who served four tours of duty in Iraq, co-sponsored legislation with Rep. Kurt Schrader to "block Trump's irresponsible hiring freeze at the VA," Moulton tweeted Tuesday.
Trump made the treatment of veterans a pillar of his campaign, even vowing in his election victory speech that the United States would "finally take care of our great veterans" under his presidency.
"They've been so loyal, and I've gotten to know so many over this 18-month journey," Trump said. "The time I've spent with them during this campaign has been among my greatest honors. Our veterans are incredible people. We will embark upon a project of national growth and renewal. I will harness the creative talents of our people and we will call upon the best and brightest to leverage their tremendous talent for the benefit of all. It's going to happen."
One of his first actions in office appears to be breaking that promise.