Veterans Must Choose: Paycheck or Medical Care?

For veterans, serving their country was a great honor. They are exceptional Americans who stepped up, put on their uniform, and put their lives on the line. Many rendered the highest sacrifice and never made it home. Others returned with visible and invisible wounds that may take years or even a lifetime to heal. 

Many wounded warriors continue their service by joining the Department of Veterans Affairs to serve their fellow veterans. They take care of others while trying to take care of themselves.  

The federal government has tried to make it easier for veterans with disabilities to transition to civilian life. In 2016, Congress also passed a bill giving disabled veteran federal employees 104 additional hours of paid sick leave during their first year on the job. The bill was needed as new employees hadn’t accrued enough paid sick leave and had to take unpaid leave to receive medical care for their service-related injuries.       

But this 2016 law doesn’t apply to all veterans. It didn't automatically apply to certain VA medical positions: physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, chiropractors, podiatrists, optometrists, dentists, and expanded-function dental auxiliaries.  

To make sure these disabled veteran employees don’t have to choose between a paycheck and getting the care they need, a group of senators introduced a bill to fix that. The VA Veteran Transition Improvement Act, S. 899, would ensure veterans with a disability of 30% or higher working at the VA can access additional paid sick leave during their first year on the job. Besides helping new employees get the care they need, the bill would help with the VA’s effort to fill 18,000 vacancies for these positions. 

The bipartisan bill was introduced by Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Jerry Moran of Kansas, and Jon Tester of Montana. 

“As the VA works to fill tens of thousands of vacancies at its medical facilities in Hawaii and across the country, we must ensure that additional paid sick leave mandated by Congress is available to the VA’s disabled veteran employees as it is for other federal agency employees,” said Senator Hirono. “Disabled veterans have already given so much to serve our country, and those who choose to continue their federal service should not have to choose between getting a paycheck and getting the care they need. This legislation will help ensure there are no barriers for future disabled veterans to continue serving their fellow veterans at this critical agency.” 

“Providing men and women with service-related disabilities greater flexibility to pursue medical care is a simple way to show our gratitude for protecting our freedoms,” said Senator Moran. 

“This bill will help veterans make the difficult transition back to civilian life, and it will ensure the folks who served this nation aren’t punished for getting the care they have earned,” Senator Tester said. “Veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to defend our freedoms and it is critical that they can access the care they need.”  

AFGE praises the senators for extending the 2016 law to all VA medical professionals. Disabled veterans who work in VA health care positions covered by the Title 38 personnel system – such as physicians, nurses, dentists, and optometrists – currently receive less sick leave than disabled veterans in Title 5 civilian positions.  

“This bill honors the service of those who choose to care for veterans in the VA after saving lives on the battlefield, and it also would make the VA a more competitive recruiter – helping the agency fill more than 45,000 vacant positions,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. 

Veterans organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Disabled American Veterans, support the bill. 

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