Tester introduces legislation to train more Physician Assistants, reduce wait times at the VA

Bipartisan bill will create a pathway for service members to launch careers as a PA at the VA

(U.S. Senate)-In an effort to decrease wait times at the VA, Senator Jon Tester today introduced his latest bill to increase the number of health professionals serving veterans at the VA.

Tester’s bill will provide veterans who served as medics in the armed forces with the opportunity to attain the education and training needed to become a Physician Assistant.

“The lack of Physician Assistants at the VA is contributing to longer wait times for veterans who deserve timely care,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill provides support to former servicemembers so they can launch their career as a Physician Assistant, help reduce wait times at the VA, and address the crisis level shortage of medical professionals at rural medical centers across the country.”

Currently, veterans who served as medics have the opportunity to work at the VA through the Intermediate Care Technicians (ICT) Pilot Program, but they do not receive the additional training they need to advance their careers at the VA.

Tester’s bill will authorize the Grow Our Own Directive (GOOD) Pilot Program for five years to advance training and education opportunities for participants of the ICT program, individuals who agree to work in VA facilities in underserved states, and former service members with military health experience. Once these veterans are certified as Physician Assistants, they will be required to work at the VA for at least three years. Additionally, this bill will require the VA to establish competitive pay for physician assistants employed by the Department.

Physician Assistants are one of the most in-demand positions at the VA. In September, USA Today reported that there is a 23 percent vacancy rate at the VA for physician assistants. According to the Veterans Affairs Physicians Assistants Association, there are an estimated 30,000 open Physician Assistant positions in the U.S., making it difficult for the VA to recruit and retain physician assistants.

This bill is endorsed by the Veterans Affairs Physician’s Assistant Association, the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the Blinded Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans Association, the American Federation of Government Employees, and the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS).

“This bill provides support for returning combat medics and corpsmen, including scholarships for them to become the next generation of veteran physician assistant providers like the returning Vietnam veterans generation did in the 1960’s and 1970’s who provided decades of health care to fellow veterans in the VA system,” said Tom Zampieri, Chairman of the Blinded Veterans Association. “The VA currently lacks a national strategic plan to address this need with the PA workforce to meet the current demand for health care access, and Senator Tester’s legislation addresses these and many other key issues for PA’s.”

“Ready access to quality patient care is among the most critical issues facing our nation’s veterans at VA healthcare facilities. We are thrilled that Senators Tester and Moran have sponsored legislation to increase the PA workforce, while creating a pathway for veterans to be educated in this critical healthcare profession. This creative model, along with needed policy improvements, holds great promise for the recruitment and retention of PAs at the VA,” said Jennifer L. Dorn CEO of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

“NGAUS greatly appreciates Senator Tester’s continuing support for the National Guard,” said retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, NGAUS president. ” His current legislation regarding physician assistants will help not only our retiring medical Guard personnel with future employment opportunities, it will provide a standard of experienced physician assistant service for all our nation’s veterans.”

“Physicians Assistants provide high quality and cost effective medical care,” said Rubina DaSilva, President of the Veterans Affairs Physician Assistant Association. “Providing educational assistance, establishing pay grades, including PAs in the locality pay act, and establishing standards to improve and provide accountability of the VA’s use of educational funds will immediately address the issues of retention and recruitment problems with Physician Assistants in the VA.”

In June, Tester introduced his DOCS for Veterans Act to recruit and retain more doctors at the VA while building a stronger pipeline of doctors and mental health professionals to rural and underserved areas.

Tester’s bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and is available online HERE.