Acknowledging that a shortage of physicians is one reason why the nation's veterans encounter long delays in receiving treatment, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced a campaign(www.va.gov) to recruit more physicians and other clinicians to work inside its facilities.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald launched the campaign by visiting with medical students at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He plans to continue visiting medical schools nationwide in an effort to draw more physicians to work at VA hospitals that suffer from a shortage of primary care physicians.
Officials are also considering an increase in pay for physicians who work at the VA to bring their compensation to a level commensurate with that of physicians employed at academic medical centers or in private practice. The agency will expand the existing loan repayment program for medical students as an additional incentive.
Other proposals under consideration include
- expanding a pilot project to bring combat medics and corpsmen into VA facilities as clinicians;
- working to develop a partnership with academic nursing centers to provide mental health care for veterans;
- collaborating with the Department of Defense (DoD) Health Affairs, Army, Navy and Air Force to improve recruitment of recently or soon-to-be discharged health care professionals; and
- streamlining the credentialing process for VA and DoD health care professionals.
"We need the best doctors and nurses serving veterans, and that is why I will be out recruiting, leveraging the existing relationships and affiliations VA has with many academic institutions, and talking directly to medical professionals about joining us to fulfill our exceptional mission of caring for those who 'shall have borne the battle,'" McDonald said in a press statement announcing the initiative.
The recent enactment of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act already will allow the VA to sign provider agreements with physicians outside the agency to provide care for veterans under certain circumstances. Payment for care thus rendered will likely be at Medicare rates.
Earlier this summer, the AAFP wrote a letter to the White House(2 page PDF) offering a number of proposals to increase access to care for veterans. Among several recommendations the Academy made were allowing physicians who do not work in VA hospitals to provide care for veterans and allowing civilian physicians to write prescriptions that can be filled in VA pharmacies.
"As a veteran, I'm glad they're doing it," said Terrence Schulte, chapter executive for both the Virginia AFP and the Uniformed Services AFP.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Schulte mentioned that one of his friends, a veteran who qualifies for Medicare, continues to go to a VA hospital despite having to wait two weeks to get an appointment.
"My take on it is that somebody finally realized there's a problem," he said.
In the coming months, the VA will propose new rules and regulations intended to implement the law. The AAFP will continue to work with the agency and provide comments on the proposed regulations.
Related AAFP News Coverage
VA Adds Primary Care to Contract Program for Veterans' Health
Move Follows AAFP Advocacy to Facilitate Access to Civilian Physicians