At Workforce Hearing, Tester Presses VA Officials on His VA CAREERS Act

VA officials emphasized how Senator’s bipartisan bill will better equip VA to recruit and retain clinicians and address chronic medical personnel shortages across the country

At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing today on strengthening the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) workforce, Chairman Jon Tester questioned VA officials on his VA Clinician Appreciation, Recruitment, Education, Expansion, and Retention Support (CAREERS) Act and the impact it would have on VA’s recruitment and retention efforts if signed into law.

Underscoring how this legislation would modernize VA’s antiquated pay system for physicians and other high-level clinicians, Tester asked why provisions in the VA CAREERS Act would be critical to better equipping VA to recruit and retain clinicians, including a provision to remove pay caps on physicians, dentists, podiatrists, and optometrists’ salaries.

“The VA CAREERS Act reimagines the way we pay VA docs—I believe this is critical,” said Tester. “We hear complaints from providers in Montana, the biggest complaint is probably how long it takes…And the other one is pay…Why is it important to pull off the caps?”

“The caps are a real constraint for us for our high level specialties and in our high cost of living areas,” replied Jessica Bonjorni, Chief Human Capital Management for the Veterans Health Administration. “So for specialties such as cardiology, neurology, radiology, there are physicians coming right out of school who are making well-over what we’re able to offer right now to our very tenured providers. So, our ability to compete in the market is significantly hampered by the caps.”

The Chairman went on to question Bonjorni on how the new system under the VA CAREERS Act would compare to how the private sector determines clinician salaries. Bonjorni emphasized that the new system is “much more in line with how the private sector operates.” Additionally, she confirmed how it will give the Department greater flexibility to make VA more competitive in the hiring market.

Tester is leading the charge in Congress to bolster recruitment and retention of clinicians at VA—particularly those in rural areas. He is pushing to pass his VA CAREERS Act—bipartisan legislation he introduced alongside U.S. Senator John Boozman—to provide VA with more tools to compete for highly qualified medical personnel, support training for current and future VA clinicians to ensure veterans receive the highest quality of care, and provide more oversight and public transparency on VA’s efforts to address vacancies. This legislation would also better prepare VA to manage care for the thousands of veterans newly eligible for care under Tester’s Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

Last Congress, Tester also successfully secured key workforce provisions to support VA in the PACT Act and in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023. This included resources for VA to increase hiring and retention, develop a national VA Rural Recruitment and Hiring Plan, and buy-out non-VA service contracts for health care professionals.


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