Veterans Affairs Increases Maximum Salary for Physicians, Dentists

The VA proposed a bump in pay in September, saying it would increase the maximum rates of annual pay for incoming physicians and dentists to the Veterans Health Administration. The increase went into effect in November.

It's an increase of $20- to $35,000 in maximum salaries; an increase, according to the VA, to recruit the "best and brightest."

"If we don't recruit the new physicians coming out, we're not going to have the new blood in our system that drives change," said Dr. Thomas Lynch, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations.

Lynch says the updated pay tables are an outline, of sorts, to determine how much incoming physicians are going to make. He says the pay tables are looked at every two years, and regardless of the scandal that rocked the VA, the increase was set to happen.

"It's part of an ongoing process." He explained.

The VA has seven pay tables for physicians and dentists. Within those tables are salary ranges that reflect things like experience, position, and training.

"Once those pay tables are implemented, then the Chief of Staff at each of the facilities around the country is able to use those pay tables to determine how we are going to pay the physicians that are coming into the VA, how we are going to make the determinations of what their salary should to be," Lynch said.

The new tables, which went into effect in November, upped the maximum pay.

"Everybody's pay is not automatically raised because the pay tables are changed. As new physicians come in, the pay tables are used to determine their salaries," he explained.

In Focus Investigators spoke with a current VA physician who calls the increased maximum salary for new hires "unfair." He didn't want our team to use his name or mention which VA hospital he works in, but he says new hires could be making as much, if not more, than some current workers.

"The existing doctors, many of whom who have been in place for 10, 15, or even 20 years, haven't seen any change. And the level of anger is incredibly high. The morale is very, very low," the physician remarked.

We asked Lynch what current doctors within the VA are saying about the increase. "I must admit, I haven't talked to any personally. I think no one is going to turn down the opportunity to make a little more money," he responded. He admitted that adjusting the maximum salary doesn't necessarily mean everyone is going to see a boost.

"Everybody's pay is not automatically raised because the pay tables are changed," Lynch said. "As new physicians come in, the pay tables are used to determine their salaries."

The physician that we spoke with says he's gotten a 2 percent increase over the last four years. "That has been a complete boldfaced disappointment. Nothing has happened," the physician said of changes that he expected to come.

The VA says the bump in maximum salary range is just one aspect of attracting new talent. They're getting involved in recruiting services across the country, partnering with the academic nursing community, and departments like the Department of Defense.

"I think you have to have that mixture of experience and you also have to have that new individual who challenges the system, who asks the questions, who drives innovation," Lynch said.



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