VA announces boost to pay scales for doctors, dentists

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald at the VA's headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2014. VA doctors and dentists could earn $20,000 to $35,000 more a year as part of McDonald’s plan to recruit and retain more providers for veterans.


By JENNIFER HLAD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 17, 2014

Veterans Affairs doctors and dentists could earn $20,000 to $35,000 more a year as part of new VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s plan to recruit and retain more providers for veterans, the VA announced Wednesday.

The VA has proposed the updated pay tables for doctors and dentists who provide care for veterans, but said the pay scale for physicians in leadership roles will not change.

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A VA spokesman said the possible increase of the minimum and maximum pay ranges is for new hires or to help retain current employees, and does not mean that all doctors and dentists will automatically get a raise. Instead, he said, each decision about pay will be based on the skills and qualifications of the doctor or dentist being recruited.

McDonald foreshadowed the announcement Monday in San Diego, saying the VA needs to hire more doctors, nurses and clinicians and to “pay competitively” based on performance and experience to keep the new hires from leaving.

Competitive salaries are more important than ever for the VA, as the U.S. is in the midst of a doctor shortage that is expected to keep growing, reaching a national shortage of 130,600 doctors by 2025, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Medical schools have increased enrollment to meet the demand, but federally funded residency training programs remain in short supply because of a Congressionally mandated cap, according to the association. McDonald recently began a nationwide recruiting campaign in which he is visiting medical schools to tell new doctors why they should consider working for the VA.

As of Sept. 5, he said, the Veterans Health Administration had reduced the electronic waiting lists by 57 percent.

“At VA, we have a noble and inspiring mission: to serve veterans, their survivors and dependents,” McDonald said in a written statement Wednesday. “We are committed to hiring more medical professionals across the country to better serve veterans and expand their access to timely, high-quality care.”

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, the interim under secretary for health, said in a written statement that more competitive salaries will allow the VA to “attract and hire the best and brightest to treat veterans.”

According to a chart provided by the VA, average compensation for some specialities, such as psychiatry, are already in line with private sector salaries, while others — such gastroenterology, orthopedic surgery, primary care, diagnostic radiology and anesthesiology — are anywhere from $20,000 per year less to $165,000 per year less than those outside the VA system. 

The VA has also begun collaborating with nursing schools, partnering with the DOD and the services to recruit health care professionals when they leave active-duty service, expanding a program to hire combat medics and corpsmen as clinicians, and improving the credentialing process for VA and DOD health care providers, according to a VA press release.

Twitter: @jhlad