WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs has added more than 60 job titles to the list of vacant positions exempt from the temporary federal hiring freeze enacted in January by President Donald Trump.

VA Secretary David Shulkin issued a memorandum last week on the additional exemptions, including some positions in the Veterans Benefits Administration, an agency that lawmakers have urged for more workers to be hired to help with veterans’ claims.

“This announcement is critical for veterans waiting for answers on their disability claims, appeals and seeking care in places like Montana,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a prepared statement.

Robert Synder, who held the role of VA secretary in the weeks before Shulkin’s confirmation, exempted 94 job titles Jan. 27, just days after the 90-day freeze took effect Jan. 23. That exemption allowed the VA to continue hiring for thousands of open positions — approximately 37,000 of 45,000 vacancies, Shulkin has told lawmakers.

Shulkin’s memo, issued March 13, increases freeze-exempt jobs to 156. It was unclear Monday how many more of the 45,000 vacancies could be filled based on Shulkin’s memo. However, depending on how many vacancies there are for each job title, there could be hundreds, possibly thousands, of additional positions exempt from the hiring freeze.

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