Tester stands with veterans to resolve physician shortages, reduce wait times at the VA

New bill will increase recruitment and retention efforts for podiatrists at the VA

(U.S. Senate) – Continuing his efforts to resolve physician shortages and reduce wait times for veterans, Senator Jon Tester is standing with veterans to introduce new legislation to increase recruitment and retention of podiatrists at the VA.

Tester’s bill, the VA Provider Equity Act, will classify podiatrists, also known as foot and ankle doctors, as physicians at the VA. This classification will provide podiatrists with the same workforce incentives like student loan repayments and scholarships, as all other VA physicians.

“Veterans shouldn’t have to stand in line to see a foot doctor, and a lack of podiatrists at the VA is forcing veterans to wait too long for the care they deserve,” Tester said. “This bill gives podiatrists more incentive to serve veterans and will help fill vacant positions faster.”

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, in Montana, podiatrist vacancies have taken over two years to fill. Additionally, Montana currently only employs four podiatrists to treat the state’s 50,000 veterans seeking care through the VA.

Montana veteran Michael Tolomeo-Atwood is one of them.

“Not having podiatric care would be a huge detriment to me. My ankles have gotten weaker. I have painful hips, my back is misaligned, and my nerves don’t work correctly. Podiatric care makes a huge difference,” said Tolomeo-Atwood. “Walking with my service dog and not having to rest as often and not worry about falling down makes me feel like a man again. I can walk through the grocery store without my legs buckling. My quality of life and independence-that’s what it’s all about.”

Excluding podiatrists from these retention incentives has increased their attrition rate at the VA. Today, the majority of new podiatrists hired by the VA have less than five years of experience and leave the VA within five years of being hired.

Since last October, 93 percent of new podiatric patients have experienced wait times longer than 15 days, with some patients waiting over four months for an appointment due to the high turnover rate among VA podiatrists.

“This vital legislation will ensure that our nation’s 22 million veterans receive the highest quality care from the most highly trained and specialized foot and ankle specialists,” said Dr. Phillip Ward President of the American Podiatric Medical Association. “The successful passage of the VA Provider Equity Act would help to ensure that employment within the VA system is attractive to podiatric physicians, and would help keep America’s veterans, such as Montana resident Michael Tolomeo-Atwood, active and mobile.”

This year, Tester also introduced his DOCS for Veterans Act to recruit and retain more doctors at the VA, establishing a stronger pipeline of medical professionals to rural and underserved areas.