Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald, speaks at the DAV 2014 National Convention on Aug. 9, 2014, in Las Vegas.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald, speaks at the DAV 2014 National Convention on Aug. 9, 2014, in Las Vegas. David Becker/AP

VA Will Increase Pay for New Doctors, Dentists

As part of its recruitment effort to hire more healthcare professionals, new VA doctors and dentists could earn as much as $35,000 more than the current salary ranges. By Kellie Lunney

The Veterans Affairs Department wants to increase the annual salaries of new physicians and dentists by up to $35,000 as part of a nationwide recruitment effort to hire more doctors and improve veterans’ access to care.

The change, which the department announced Wednesday, would update existing pay tables for several categories of physicians in the Veterans Health Administration, enabling newly hired doctors to potentially earn between $20,000 and $35,000 more than the current salary ranges. The pay ranges for physicians who serve in leadership roles, including department undersecretaries and VA medical center directors, would not change. The notice outlining the new policy will be published Thursday in the Federal Register and will take effect on Nov. 30.

“We are committed to hiring more medical professionals across the country to better serve veterans and expand their access to timely, high-quality care,” said VA Secretary Bob McDonald, in a statement.

McDonald told reporters last week during a press conference that he’s worried about the department’s ability to recruit and retain a talented workforce as it recovers from a major scandal and reinvents itself to better serve the country’s vets. He said the department needs new doctors, nurses and clinicians for 28,000 jobs authorized by Congress in the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. That law was passed in response to several whistleblower allegations that VA employees falsified documents related to patient care and has sparked a departmentwide management reform and public relations effort that McDonald hopes will improve services and rebuild the VA’s trust with veterans.

VA has seven pay tables for physicians and dentists with different levels or “tiers” that include a salary range for positions in those categories. Each pay table corresponds to a specialty within the medical field, or a specific executive position. Pay Table 1, for example, covers a range of medical specialties, including allergy and immunology, geriatrics, psychiatry and general practice dentistry. The current annual pay range for Pay Table 1, Tier 1 is $98,967 to $195,000. Under VA’s proposed increase, the maximum yearly salary for new physicians and dentists covered in that category would jump to $215,000. For those in Pay Table 3, which includes noninvasive cardiology, dermatology, ophthalmology and oral surgery, the maximum salary for Tier 1 would increase $35,000—from $265,000 to $300,000. Of course, reaching the maximum pay in each range depends on a doctor’s skill sets, and is not guaranteed.

(Related: The VA is Struggling To Fill 'Tens of Thousands' of Jobs)

Click here for a comparison of the current salary ranges for each pay table and VA’s recommended increases.

“With more competitive salaries for physicians and dentists, VHA is in a position to attract and hire the best and brightest to treat veterans,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, interim undersecretary for health. It’s unclear how the pay changes could affect the morale or retention of current doctors and dentists.

There are more than 40 physician and dentist specialties in the VA system, and more than 25,000 doctors and dentists who work for the department. In crafting the new pay ranges, department officials looked at salary survey data that most closely resembled the VA in terms of environment.

The pay increase for new hires is one part of a wide-ranging VA recruitment effort. The department also plans to collaborate with nursing schools on psychiatric and mental health to strengthen relationships between academia and VA facilities, expand the loan repayment program, and augment a pilot program to bring in combat medics and corpsmen as clinicians at the VA.

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