Increasing the pay rates for VA doctors and dentists should help the Department of Veterans Affairs recruit additional providers to treat our veterans, but the VA still needs to tackle troubling retention and retaliation problems, the head of the largest union representing VA workers.
“VA Secretary Robert McDonald has taken a good first step toward improving veterans’ access to care by proposing to update the pay rates for physicians and dentists, who haven’t seen an increase since October 2009,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “These rate increases will bring the VA closer to the salaries earned by private sector providers, enabling the VA to bolster its recruiting of top-notch providers.”
However, Cox said there are other systemic problems that must be corrected within the VA healthcare system.
For starters, the VA currently suffers from alarmingly high turnover rates: more than 20 percent of doctors quit within the first two years of being hired, while nearly four in 10 quit within the first five years.
“While bringing on more physicians could help address some of the frustrations that our doctors experience, the VA needs to review all of the reasons for the high attrition rates and determine what more needs to be done to improve retention,” Cox said. “Our doctors report having too little time to spend with patients, not enough support personnel, and too many layers of bureaucracy that hinder patient care.”
In addition, retaliation by VA managers against employees who blow the whistle on mismanagement remains a serious issue. AFGE members have reported instances of sham peer reviews being used to punish doctors who are seen as troublemakers and force them out.
“A culture of retaliation and retribution permeates the corridors at many of our VA facilities,” AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee said. “Until VA doctors, nurses, and other staff are able to report problems openly without fear of losing their jobs, no amount of additional salary will improve the toxic working conditions at the VA.”